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Tag: Winternights

The Werewolf in the Viking Age (Halloween Special)

The Werewolf in the Viking Age (Halloween Special)

I thought I’d do a piece about werewolves since Halloween and Winternights is coming up. Yeah, even though I’m not particularly fond of the whole Halloween thing, I get that a lot of people are into Halloween, which means I should at least write something related to it.

Nowadays shifters and werewolves have become popular in modern culture. Ever since Lon Chaney Jr. donned makeup and a mask, werewolves have been popular on the silver screen. More recently, we see the werewolves in urban and paranormal fantasy and romance as sort of cuddly and dangerous wild creatures. Our ancestors would probably think we’re crazy for loving the wolf, which is why I’d love to talk about wolves and werewolves.

Wolves in Norse Mythology

If you look at Norse and Germanic mythology, you’ll see plenty of wolves in the stories. Odin is accompanied by two wolves, Geri and Freki. Loki’s first wife, Angrboða, bore Fenrir the wolf of Ragnarok, as well as Hel and Jörmungandr. Two wolves, Sköll and Hati Hróðvitnisson, chase the sun and moon respectively.

With the exception of Odin’s wolves, most wolves in our mythology have a negative connotation. Odin’s wolves may be a testament to Odin’s often unpredictable and wild side that can cause harm. Fenrir will swallow Odin. The wolves that chase the sun and moon are are destined to swallow our sun and moon during Ragnarok. In other words, our myths tell us that wolves are to be feared. But why is that?

What Our Ancestors Thought of Wolves

Wolves were considered dangerous creatures that inhabited the wilderness. People heard them howl outside of the safe confines of their village, which protected them against the dangers that lurked beyond their fences or walls. When criminals were sentenced, they typically were exiled from the village or town. These people were called vargr, yes, wolves, and they could be hunted and killed on sight without penalty. These people had to learn how to survive in the wilderness or go to another place that hadn’t heard of them yet. They were considered the lowest of the low and assuming they survived, they might join other bands of criminals that preyed upon travelers.

So, the wolf was a feared animal to our ancestors and those exiled criminals were considered like wolves.

What About Werewolves?

In the Saga of the Volsungs there’s a story how a father and son, Sigmund and Sinfjotli, probably vargr, come upon two men in an enchanted sleep who have magic wolf pelts. The father and son steal them and put them on, becoming wolves. The pelts transform people into wolves for ten days. The new wolves go on a killing spree, which ends when the father attacks the son, causing a mortal wound. Only through the aid of a sympathetic raven does the son become healed and the two remove their wolf pelts and burn them on the tenth day.

Ulfhednar Berserkers

Yeah, yeah, berserkers are a different type of warrior based on a bear, I know. Deal with it. Anyway, ulfhednar were a type of berserker that instead of using the strength of the bear, used the powers of the wolf in their fighting. These warriors would wear wolf skins and were believed to be Odin’s warriors. They didn’t wear mail and didn’t appear harmed by fire or metal. They would howl and bite their shields, no doubt terrifying their enemies.

Where Did Our Halloween Werewolves Come From?

There’s little doubt that the modern day werewolves we associate with Halloween came from Eastern Europe. But there’s an excellent chance that those people got their legends from both the ulfhednar and the fear of the vargr. After all, Eastern Europeans mingled with Northern Europeans quite often and the Rus had their origins with the Vikings. But then again, most cultures seem to have shape shifting and wolf legends. It may have come from earlier days when humans huddled around their campfires and heard those howls coming from just outside the safety of the light.

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Celebrating Winternight

Celebrating Winternight

I ran into this post by the 21st Century Viking about Winternight, and I got a good feeling about it.  I could understand the writer’s general feelings about Samhain, seeing as I really don’t have much love for the holiday.  But what fired me up was her wording:

For the Ancient Vikings this was a time to celebrate, this was the beginning of winter. They had come home from raiding and trading, winter was starting, and they were going to start the Winter Hunting.

Winter Hunting?  Oh yes, count me in!

Winter Hunting after Winternight

Yes, I know Winternight is something from Stephen McNallen, and while I am not a big fan of AFA, I’m not against the holiday of Winternight, per se. It makes a certain amount of sense to me to mark the end of summer activities and go into autumn/winter activities. Like 21st Century Viking, I’ve never been fond of Samhain, so it stands to reason that something like Winternight appeals to me.  Perhaps what’s missing is Winter Hunting, which I could totally get behind, because I hunt as a semi-subsistence hunter.

I had been in a fairly foul mood recently because the clock is ticking for me to get my animals into the freezer and I lost two precious hunting days due to family obligations. I realize that it’s just fate, and no matter how well you plan for something, life inevitably intrudes.  It’s the chaos factors at play here.  What should’ve been six animals in my freezer are only three because of yours truly, problems with “buck fever,” (look it up) and bad luck. I can look in the mirror every day at whose fault it is–is that Loki behind me?– but one must treat each hunting day as a new day.  Last year, I brought home the majority of the meat, but this year looks sparse.

So, with Winternight, we’re entering the Winter Hunting cycle, and I hope I can make more successful so we’ll have enough food for the year.  Otherwise, I may have to get creative on buying meat.  The warm Indian Summer days evaporated on Halloween, and we’re now in the cold and wet phase of the season.

Hunting, NOT Shopping

For those of you who do not hunt, let me say that hunting isn’t shopping.  You go where you hope there are animals — and you hope you can get close enough to humanely shoot one.  I say humanely because neither I nor my husband want an animal to suffer.  We want a clean, fast kill.

Wild animals generally don’t stand still for you to shoot.  Once they figure you out, they beat feet to the next county–or next country, for that matter.  Having gotten within 300 yards (that’s three football fields) of a pronghorn antelope I was trying to shoot and having the entire herd bust us and run away at 60 miles per hour (second fastest land animal), let me say, it has been more than frustrating.

300 yards.  Sigh.  They looked microscopic in my scope.  They were out of my comfort range, so I didn’t take the shot.  The days I counted on hunting antelope seemed to evaporate quickly.  I just have a few more days and then the antelope season disappears for this year.

When Skadi Helps You Out

So, I’m running late to get to an appointment.  I’m cold, I’m tired, and I’m sore from chasing animals in the back country.  I literally get in the car and am about to turn the key when I look up.  About fifty yards away from the truck is a buck.  A legal buck.  In a safe place with good angles, if I shot him.  The only bad side of the entire thing is that, well, I’m in my truck.  Without my rifle, orange, or tags.  And I’m late, late, late to an appointment.  Oh, and if he leaves, he’s going down a 50 plus foot embankment, and assuming I hit him, I’m going to have a Hel of a time trying to get him out of there by myself until my husband comes home.

What would Skadi do?  (WWSD?)

What would Skadi do?  I could reschedule the appointment, but not the buck.  I got out of the truck and went back inside.  I knew damn well that deer would vanish by the time I got my rifle and orange, but I got them anyway.  I walked out of the house.  He was still there.  I walked down the drive to get a better shot and to ensure I wasn’t going to hit anything I didn’t intend on hitting.  He just stood there watching me.

I aimed and pressed the trigger. No buck fever.  No shaking.  Just me and the buck.  Nothing.  Shit.  I forgot to take the safety off.  Again, lined up on him.  Pressed the trigger.  Loud boom and the buck dropped right then and there.  No fuss, no muss.  I went over to him and was about to put another round into him, only, he stopped moving and died right where he had stood.  I thanked him and Skadi.  As I’ve said, wild animals don’t hang around once they figure you out.  The only thing I could think of was that the slack wind might have kept him from smelling me.  Either that or Skadi wanted me to have him.

Now the Work Begins

After tagging the critter, I went back inside and rescheduled my appointment.  Then, there was the little problem of getting such a big animal to my house.  I thought about gutting him right there, but I really didn’t want a bear so close to my house.  (Yeah, I live that close to the back country.)  So, I drove my truck to him.  Only, he was beyond heavy.  I’m guessing he was close to 200 lbs.  It took me two hours to get him into the house to gut and skin him.  By the time my husband got home, I was finally pulling off the backstraps. It took me three more hours to gut, skin, and quarter by myself because I’m used to doing this with someone else.

So, I have a quartered deer waiting for me to butcher. And blood everywhere.  And I do mean EVERYWHERE.  I had to wash my clothes, hoping the blood would come out.  Hel, I left bloody footprints all over the house.  Thank the gods I have tile and not carpet.

Skadi asked me for the liver, which I will oblige.  Beyond that, I at least have put bullet into animal and came away with more food right after Winternight.  And now I have four animals down, which means I still must get more if I’m to get enough meat for the year.

Winter hunting.  Yeah, it’s kind of like that.