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The Völvagrave at Fyrkat

By: Kasper Zinck Østergaard, Ba. History and Cultural Heritage Student

 

Vølve

Photo: Lone Lyngkjær Wolf Kirkegard

 

One of the graves found at Fyrkat is something out of the ordinary. The grave contains a woman who’s been buried with a couple of interesting items. The woman is assumed to be a völva which means staff bearer. A völva is a type of shaman or sorceress in the viking age. Völva graves have been found in various places around Scandinavia and in the British Isles and all these graves containe some of the same artifacts and items that are present in grave IV at Fyrkat. The woman has a staff next to her in the grave and that staff is characteristic for a völva. On top of that the woman had toe rings on her second or third toes. Toe Rings suggest a connection to the east or the middle east. That can help us to better understand, where this woman came from. A couple of the items in the grave are völva items. There is a metal staff and a round, chair shaped pendant hanging from one of her necklaces. Staffs like the one in grave IV along with the pendant have been found in the other völva graves and one of the pendants found in another grave has a small figurine of a woman sitting in the chair. The staffs that have been found are to short to be walking staffs so they have probably had a ceremonial and spiritual function.

In the picture on the left you can se a model of the völva in her grave made by Lone Lyngkjær Wolf Kirkegaard.

 

 

The drawing on the right shows how the völva was lying in her grave with jewelry and artifacts around her. You can see how the völva’s feet are lying and see the staff on her right side. The coffin that the Völva was laid in is made from the bed of a horse or ox wagon and that is another indication of the Völva was of wealth, significance and importance since a big part of a wagon was sacrificed to make a prober coffin. The drawing is made by Thomas Hjejle Bredsdorff and it follows guidelines from archaeologists very precisely to give as accurate a depiction of the völva grave as possible.

 

Tegning af Vølve

Drawing by: Thomas Hjejle Bredsdorff

 

It is very difficult to pinpoint exactly where the woman came from. More than one thing suggests that she had some kind of connection or relations to the Middle East or the southern part of Europe. A rounded of box, that’s found in the grave could, as it is the case with the toe rings, have its origins in the east. The box contained fat. Henbane seeds, also found in the grave in a small bag, mixed with fat becomes a salve that was called Flying ointment in the Middle ages. The völva was a religius specialist and when she was doing her magic, summoning spirits or predicting the future the Flying ointment could give the recipient the experience of flying when applied  

Spænde

Photo: Nationalmuseet

 

The völva at Fyrkat is not the only völva that’s been found. All over Scandinavia we find woman buried with items and artifacts like the ones found in grave IV at Fyrkat. The pendant shaped like a chair is one of these items as is the staff. The chair is a symbol of the Völva and represents how she was sitting in a chair while performing sorcery and the pendants are very similar to each other. A small container containing a different type of grease, is a Gotland Buckle. These buckles were made in Gotland at this time and was a part of the female clothing in Gotland. The buckle in this case, was converted to a kind of container filled with grease which could have been used as a facial paint for ceremonies or one of the völva’s rituals.

 

Fyrkat-borgen

 

Literature:

Erik the Red’s Saga. Det Førkristne Norden, Religion og mytologi. Jens Peter Schjødt. 1999. S. 207-209.

Pentz, P., Panum Baastrup, M., Karg, og Mannering, U., 2009. Kong Haralds vølve. I Nationalmuseets Arbejdsmark 2009.

Price, N.S., 2002. The Viking Way. Religion and War in Late Iron Age Scandinavia.

Vikingecenter Fyrkat:

 

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Vikingecenter Fyrkat

Fyrkatvej 37 B
9500 Hobro

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