Norns and the Children

It is in the night that the Norns appear following a child’s birth, with high-born children a great ceremony that would follow this. The new born infant would be placed upon the floor remaining there without being touched by any person, until the infant was picked up and put into the folds of the infant’s father’s cloak, by the infant’s father; in the absence of the father the nearest of kin would assume the role of the father, thus the ceremony of acknowledged the legitimacy of his offspring. By appearance only the father would hold the infant in his arms and judged the temper, proportions, fortune, luck in war and decided if the infant should live or be exposes and left to die.

If the infant was allowed to live the sacred rite Ausa Vatni1, which seems to have consisted either in pouring or sprinkling of water over the child, a custom that was so common there is not even any descriptions of how the water was poured or sprinkled over the infant, it would seem most likely to have been done with a hand. This sacred rite is an integral part of the Asa creed and consequently of great antiquity, antedating Christian baptism and most binding among the ancestors of the English speaking peoples: to expose a child after this rite was considered murder.

The sprinkling or pouring of water was practiced by the Franks, whom were once part of the Northern Germanic Tribes; it is likely that the Christian forms of baptism are based in part on the Ausa Vatni rite. A common practice by Christian missionaries was to adopt the rites of other cultures and change the name of the rite to suit their needs. The renaming is clearly demonstrated with the Ausa Vatni rite as it is called by the Heathen / Asa folk and known as Skirn2 by Christian people. There is a lot of proof in the Sagas that Christians did not recognize the Heathen / Asa rite of Ausa Vatni as a valid baptism.

"It was then the custom to choose the best men to water-sprinkle or give names to the children of high-born men. When the time came at which Thora expected to bear her child, she wished to go and find King Harold. He was then north at Sœheim, while she at Mostr; she went northward on Sigurd Jarl’s ship. During the night they lay to near the shore, and Thora bore a son upon the rock at the end of the bridge. Sigurd Jarl water-sprinkled the boy, and called him Hákon, after his father Hákon Hlada Jarl." - Harald Hárfagr’s Saga, Chapter 40

Harald Fairhair when he began to get old gave to his sons the rule of Norway. He made Eirik king over all his sons, and when he had ruled for seventy winters, gave the kingship into his hands. At that time Gunnhild (Eirik’s wife) bore a son, and Harald water-sprinkled him and gave him his own name, therewith declaring that he should be king after his father if he should live.3 - Egil’s Saga, Chapter 59

The child was often named after a kinsmen or friends sometimes the child was even named after the person who was performing the rite. It is believed that the luck of the namesake would follow the child through life; as in the example of Sigurd son of Ragnar Lodbrok; Sigurd was named after his grandfather Sigurd Hring.4 The person who gave the name to the child always made it as a present, called nafnfesti; we know this as the name-fastening; the present consisted of either rings, weapons, farms, or lands. During the birth Helgi son of Borghild the Norns were present, received gifts at his name-fastening.

“The time arrived when she (Kráka or Aslaug) was confined and bore a son, whom the servant-maids took and showed to her. She bade them carry him to Ragnar (Lodbrok), and let him see him; the boy was taken into the hall and placed in the fold of Ragnar’s cloak. When he saw the boy Ragnar was asked, what he should be named; he sang:

Sigurd shall the boy be named,
He will fight battles,
And be much like his mother,
And be called his father’s son;

He will of Odin’s family
The foremost man be called;
That serpent in his eye5
Which another slew.

He drew a gold ring from his hand, and gave it to the boy as name-fasting …”" - Ragnar Lodbrok’s Saga, Chapter 8

The following gives the account of Helgi’s birth:

“It was in early ages
When eagles screamed,
Holy waters glided
From the heaven-mountains;
Then Borghild bore
The high-minded Helgi
In Brálund.

It became night in the house;
The nornir came
Who for the hero
Shaped his life;
They bade him become
The most renowned of Fylkirs
And of Budlungs-
Seem the best.

Powerfully they spun
The threads of fate,
Raven quoth to raven,
Sitting in a high tree,
Wanting food:
This I know.
The son of Sigmund
One day old
Stands in brynja,
Now the day has dawned;

Helgi’s eyes flash
Like those of Hildings;
He is the friend of wolves, 11
Let us be merry.
A Dögling. 12

When burghs were broken
In Brálund;
They unraveled
They golden threads,
And fastened them
Under the middle of the moon’s hall.6

In the east and the west
They hid the ends;
There owned the Lofdung7
Land between;
The kinswoman of Neri8
Flung one string9
On northern roads,
Bid it hold forever.

One thing grieved
The son of the Ylfings,
And also the maiden
Who bore the beloved one;
They said good years
Had come among men;
The King himself went
From the war-clash
To give garlic13
To the young Gram.14

He gave the name of Helgi,15
And Hringstadir,16
Solfjöll,17 Snœfjöll,18
And Sigarsvellir,19
Hringstod;20 Hatun,21
And Himinvangar22
An ornamented blood-serpent23
He gave to the brother of Sinfjötli.”

- Helga Kvida Hundlingsbana, 1

Special or characteristic names were often attributed to or given to adults as name-fastenings for one reason or another, in addition to the proper name of the adult; almost every important man seems to have had one.

The King Ingjald of Naumdćla fylki said: ‘What sounded so shrill, An, when, thou didst enter the door the first time here?’ ‘My bow,’ answered An, ‘because the door of your hall was so small, king, that it was all bent together when l had it on my shoulders before I came in; it sounded loud as it straightened again.’ ‘Thou shalt,’ I added the king, ‘be named An Bogsveigir (bow-bender).’ ‘What dost thou give me as name-fastening?’ ‘Here is a gold ring as name-fastening and Yule gift, because I heard what thou didst say a little while ago, and thou, tall as thou art, must also be a very strong man.’ ‘I suppose I am very strong, but I do not know it,’ said An.” - An Bogsveigi’s Saga, Chapter 3

"“King Olaf said: ‘Thou art a Vandrćdaskáld (troublesome scald), but thou shalt be my man.’ Hallfred answered: ‘What wilt thou, king, give me as name-fastening, if I shall be called Vandrćdaskáld?’ The king gave him a sword, but without a scabbard, and said: ‘Now make a stanza about the sword, with “sword” in every line’: -"

‘There is one sword of swords
I shall not lack swords,
Which made me sword-rich;
Now the wielder of swords
Will have swords enough;
I deserve three swords,
If there only were
A scabbard to this sword.’

Then the king gave him a scabbard and said: ‘”Sword” is not in every line.’ Hallfred answered:

‘There are three swords in one of them.’ ‘That is true,’ said the king” - Olaf Tryggvason, Chapter 90; Fornmanna Sögur, ii. 56).24

All throughout the Sagas there are examples of how strongly people believed in predestination. Luck and good fortune were often seen as being hereditary in certain families, especially in those of the kings who were suppose to have their own individual good luck, which they could give to their heroes and friends; luck and good fortune remained with the person after their adventures have passed; it remained with the person their whole life.

“A death-fated man can not be saved” – Islendinga Sögur, ii. 103; Fms., vi. 17.

“All is dangerous for the death-fated.” – Fafnismál 11.

“A man not death-fated escapes in some way.” – Fostbrœdra Saga, 171.

“Every one must go when he is death-fated.” – Grettis Saga, 138."

is said to have its origins.

There were two Norwegian brothers named Thórólf and Thorstein, who had a fight against the Viking Ljót and his men and were victorious. After they landed they walked up from their ships when Thórólf said:

‘I will now make a stop in my journey; I do not like to walk farther.’ Thorstien asked: ‘Art thou wounded, brother?’ Thórólf answered: ‘I will not conceal that when Ljót threw his sword he aimed at thee, and I covered theee with the shield; then I was unprotected, and it hit my stomach below the ribs, and pierced it; then I wrapped the lothes around me, and thus I have walked since; my walking will soon be finished now.’ Thorstein said: ‘It has happened as I supposed, that one of us would not return; I would give much not to have gone on this journey.’ Thórólf added: ‘Let us not reproach ourselves with that now, for no one can get over his day of fate, and I prefer to die in good repute than live in the shame of not having followed thee; nevertheless I want to ask of thee a boon, which shows my pride.’ ‘What is that, kinsman?’, asked Thorstein. Thórólf said: ‘I will tell thee. It seems to me my name has not existed long enough, and it will disappear as withered grass, and I shall never be mentioned when thou art dead; but I see that thou wilt increase our kin, and live a long time thou wilt be a man of great luck. If thou shouldst get a son, I want thee to give him the name of Thórólf, and all the luck which I have had I will give to him, for thus I believe my name will live while the world is inhabited.’ Thorstein answered: ‘I will grant thee this willingly, for I expect it to be to our honour, and good luck will follow thy name while it remains in our family.’ Thórólf added: ‘Now I think I have asked what seems most important to me,’ and then he died.” - Svarfdćla, Chapter 5

Thorstein had a son by his wife, and, when the boy was born, he was brought to his father. Thorstein looked at him and said: ‘That boy shall be named Ingimund, after the father of his mother, and I expect him to be lucky on account of his name.’” - Vatnsdćla, Chapter 7

Ingrimund son of a famous Viking who had helped King Harald Fairhair in the battle of Hafsfjord, had married Vigdis, daughter of Thórir Jarl. While on her way to Iceland she gave birth to a boy, who was handsome. Ingimund looked at him and said: ‘He shall be named Thorstein, and I think my father’s luck will follow him.’ Some time after he another son, and said: ‘The boy is large-limbed and has sharp eyes. If he lieves there will not be many to equal him; he will become a great champion, if I am not mistaken. I will not forget our kinsman Jökul, as my father begged of me, and he shall be called Jökul.’” - Vatnsdćla, Chapter 13

To have two names was considered to be lucky; to have a name of a god it was believed that the god would protect the person named after them. Sometimes the general name of the god was added or prefixed; such as As or Gud and sometimes even Ve.

Helgi, son of Thorgils, was a tall, strong and hardy man; he was fine-looking and stout. He did not talk much in his youth, and was even then overbearing and headstrong; he was ingenious and whimsical. It is said that one day, when the cattle were at the milking-place, a bull was there which belonged to the farm, and that another bull came, and they butted each other. The young Helgi was outside, and saw that their bull was defeated, so he went away and fetched an iron spike and tied it to the forehead of the bull, and thus is defeated the other. From this he was called Brodd-Helgi, and he was more skilled than any other man who grew up in the district.” - Thatt of Throstein the White, Chapter 1

Thórólf in his old age married Unn, and by her had a son named Stein. This boy Thórólf dedicated to his friend Thór, and he was therefore called Thórstien.” - Eyrbyggja, Chapter 7

Thorstien was married to Thóra, and by her had a son, who was water-sprinkled and named Grim; his father gave him to Thor, saying he would become hofgodi; he was on that account called Thorgrim.” - Eyrbyggja, Chapter 20

The household and neighbours had to be present when a woman gave birth to a child. It was actually a requirement by law for them to be not only present but at the bedside at all times during the birth. This is shown in law:

Housemaids and neighbouring women shall be at the bed-journey of every woman until the child is born, and not leave it before they have laid it to the breast of the mother ….

No woman shall have her child at the breast longer than three fasts,25 but shall have it until the third one. If her husband says that she must take her child from the breast and his wife has such power that she will not obey his words, she is liable to pay three marks of her own property. If he does not heed it any more than she, then they are each to pay three marks of their own property.” - Borgathing Law, 3

For children born to prominent families it is said to be born with weapons, that seem to have been specially made to be given at birth; and the animals born on that day were also given to the child as a birth-gift.

Hlöd, the son of King Heidrek, was brought up with King Humli, his mother’s father, and was the most handsome and bold of men. But it was an old saying at that time that a man was born with weapons or horses; this was said about the weapons that were made at the time the man was born. Also sheep, animals, oxen or horses if born at the time were given to high-born men in their honour, as here is said about Hlödver Heidreksson:

‘Hlöd was then born
In Húnaland,
With sax and sword,
With a long brynja,
On the holy field.26’”
With a ring-adorned helmet,
With a sharp sword (mœkir),
With a well-broken horse
- Hervarar Saga, Chapter 13

Ásta, Gudbrand’s daughter, bore a boy who was named Olaf when he was water-sprinkled by Hrani. It was said by some that Gudbrand would not let him be raised on account of the hatred he had against his father (Harald Grćnski), until Hrani told him that he had seen light over the house in which the child as born. Gudbrand himself ent to look at it. Then the boy was taken and brought up with great love. Hrani gave him a belt and a knife as tooth-fee, and when he grew up he gave him a ring and a sword.” - St. Olaf’s Saga, Volume IV; Fornmanna Sögur

It is in the Battle of Svold that Olaf Tryggvason said to Thyri his Queen:

Now thou needest not weep, for thou hast got back thy possessions in Vindland, but I shall today claim thy tooth-fee from King Svein, thy brighter, which thou hast often asked me to do.

During the actual birthing it was common to call upon both the goddesses and gods to help the woman in labour; this is shown here:

“Borgný, a king’s daughter, could not be delivered of her child before Oddrún, the sister of Atli, came to help her; and then Borgný says:

‘Thus may help thee
The kind powers
Frigg and Freyja
And more gods
As thou didst take
The danger from my hands.’”

- Oddrúnargrát

Both traders and warriors that lived abroad from the homelands generally found themselves living amongst Christians; had to receive the prime sign, thus allowing them to live with the Christians without becoming baptized and forsaking their own beliefs. The prime signed men on their return to their homelands brought with them the first notions of Christianity helping the missionaries who would later arrive to convert them.

A man by the name of Toki came to King Olaf Haraldsson. The king asked him if he was baptized. Toki answered:

I am prime-signed and not baptized, because I have been in turn with the heathens and the Christians, though I believe in Hvitikrist (the white Chirst). My errand to you is also that I want to be baptized and have the creed which you preach, for I am not likely to get it from a better man. The king was glad, when he wanted to be baptized and serve God. Thereupon Toki was baptized by the king’s hird-bishop and died in the white garments (of baptism)

- Flateyjarbok, ii. 137

In the spring the brothers-in-law Thorgrim and Thorkel made the ship of the eastmen ready for a voyage abroad, and took it as their property. These eastmen had been very unruly in Norway and there was no peace there. They went to sea, and this same summer Gisli and his brother-in-law Vestein went abroad from Skeljavik in Steingrim’s fjord. Önund of Medaldal managed the farm of Gisli and Thorkel, and Sakastein that of Thorgrim in Sœból, with the latter’s wife, Thordis. He was a near kinsman of Thorgrim. At this time Harald Grafeld (gray skin) ruled over Norway. Thorgrim and Thorkel landed north in Trandheim and there met the king, went before him and greeted him, and he received them well, they became friendly with his men, and it was easy for them to get property and honour. Gisli nd his followers were at sea, more than a hundred days and landed in Hördakabd, during the winter-nights (first three nights of winter), in a heavy snowstorm and violent gale. Their ship was broken into chips, but they saved their property and lives. Skegg-Bjalfi had a trading ship, and was going to Denmark. Gisli wanted to buy half his ship from him, and he said he had heard they were good men and sold them this half; they at once gave him more than itvalue in property. They went south to Denmark, to the trading town called Vebjörg (Viborg); they stayed there during the winter with Siigrhadd; they were three together there, Gisli, Vestein and Bjalfi; they were good friends and exchanged many gifts. At this time Christianity had come into Denmark, and Gisli and his companions let themselves be prime-signed; it was a custom at that time much used by the men who were on trading journeys for they could then hold free intercourse with Christians. Early in the spring Bjalfi made his ship ready for Iceland. Sigurd a Norwegian, the companion of Vestein, was then west in England…” - Gisli Sursson’s Saga, Pages 95 – 97

The exposure of a child greatly depended upon the will of the father; that not even the mother of the child dared to oppose it. If the child was fatherless at birth this right was then passed on to the person who ruled over the household or family, and the child was then carried away by a Ţrall. These children who were not acknowledged by the father or the head of the household were called úborin born (unborn or non-accepted children); the exposure itself is called utburd (carrying out).

There was an Icelandic chief named Asbjorn Gunnbajarnarson his wife was named Thorgerd; who was a fine and accomplished woman. They had a daughter named Thorny, whom Thorgerd gave in marriage to Skidi without Asbjorn’s consent.

“Some years after Asbjorn rode to the Thing and said to Thorgerd:

Now I ride to the Thing as I am wont, and I know that thou art far gone with a child; now whatever it is, boy or girl, it shall not be raised, but exposed.’ She said he should not do that, so wise and powerful a man as he was; ‘for it would be an unheard-of wickedness even if a poor man did it, but especially as you do not lack goods.’ Asbojrn replied: ‘I thought when thou gavest our daughter Thorny to Skidi, the Eastman, without my knowing it, that I should not raise more children for thee to give away against my will, but if thou dost not do as I tell thee, thou wilt feel it, as will as who break my orders, or do not do what I want.’ He rode to the Thing. A little after Thorgerd gave birth to a boy; it was large, fat and very fine; all who saw it both men and woman, praised it. Through Thorgerd thought the child was fine and loved it much, nevertheless she wanted it be exposed, for she knew the temper of her husband, Asbjorn, that he must have his will. Then she got men to expose the child, and prepare him, as was the custom. They took it out of the house, laid it down between two stones, and put a large slab over it; they left a piece of pork in the child’s mouth, and went away. Gest, a bondi, heard the child crying, and took it home to his wife; she was the foster-mother of Thorgerd, and recognized the boy. They agreed to raise the child as their own.” - Finnbogi Rammi’s Saga

In the chief reasons that led to the exposure of a child were deformity; discord between the husband and wife; dissatisfaction of the wife’s father with the union of which the child was the fruit; persuasion of the wife if her husband got a child by a concubine; superstitions as to evil omens at the time of birth, which were thought to indicate coming misfortunes caused by the child; and the utter inability to support the child due to poverty.

Every child which is born into this world shall be raised, baptized and carried to the church, except that only which is born so deformed that the mother can not give strength to it, whose heels are in the place of the toes, whose chin is between his shoulders, the neck on his breast, with the calves on his legs turning forward, his eyes on the back of his head, and seal’s fins or a dogs’s head. It shall be carried to a beach and buried where neither men nor cattle go; that is the beach of the evil one. Next is the child which is born with a skin-bag on its face; it can be seen by every one that it cannot get its food, though it might grow up; it shall be taken and carried to the church, be primed signed, laid at the church door; the nearest kinsman shall watch it till breath is out of it; it shall be buried in the churchyard, and its soul be prayed for as well as is possible.27 - Earlier Frostathing’s Law, i. 1

Signý bore a girl, both large and handsome; her brother Torfi would not let it be water-sprinkled until he knew how it would go with her life. She died, and he became so angry 28 that he wanted to have the child exposed. He asked his foster-father Sigurd to take the child and go with it to the Reykjardals river and there drown it. Sigurd said this was very wicked, but could not refuse; so he took the child, and went with it. It seemed to him so handsome that he had not the heart to throw it into the river; he turned up to Signýjarstadir, and laid the child at the yard gate, thinking it likely that it would be soon found. Grim bondi Signýjarson was standing outside at the house gable, and saw this. He went and took it up and brought it in, and gave out that his wife Helga was sick and had borne a child …. Torfi became angry at this; he took the girl, but did not dare to kill her, for it was called murder to kill children after they were water-sprinkled.” - Hord’s Saga, Chapter 8

Thorstein (son of Egil Skallagrimsson) one summer prepared to go to the Thing, and said to his wife Jófrid: ‘Thou art with child; if it a girl thou shalt have it exposed, but raise it if it is a boy.’ It was the custom, while the country was all over heathen, for those who had little property to have their children exposed, although it was always considered very wicked. And when Thorstein had said this, Jófrid: ‘This is unworthy of a man like thee, and thou who art so rich oughtest not to do this.’ Thorstein added: ‘Thou knowest well my temper, and that it will not be well with thee if my order is not obeyed.’ Then he rode to the Thing, and Jófrid gave birth to a girl which was exceedingly handsome. The women wanted to take it, but she said they needed not, and called her shepherd Thorvard, and said: ‘Take my horse and lay a saddle on it, and bring this child to Thorgerd, daughter of Egil (Skallagrimsson) in Hjardarholt, and ask her to raise it secretly so that Thorstein may not know it; I look on this child with such eyes of love that I have not the heart to expose it. Here are three marks of silver as reward; Thorgerd will send thee abroad.’ Thorvard did as she said. He rode to Hjardarholt with the child and handed it to Thorgerd; she had it raised with her tenant at Leysingjastadir in Hvammsfjord … When Thorstein came home from the Thing Jófrid told him that the child had been exposed as he had ordered, but her shepherd had run away and stolen her horse. Thorstein said this was good, and got another shepherd. For six winters this was not discovered. A few years after, when Thorstein was on a visit to his brother-in-law, Thorgerd told him that the beautiful girl before him was his own daughter, and how she had come thither. Thorstein said: ‘I can not blame you for this; most things that are fated take place, and you have remedied my foolishness. I like this girl so much that it seems to me great luck to have so fair a child; but what is her name?’ ‘Helga she is called,’ answered Thorgerd. ‘Helga the fair,’ added Thorstein. ‘Now shalt make her ready to go home with me.’” - Gunnlaug Ormstunga, Chapter 3

Never was there a violent hand laid upon children that were to be exposed. Only one case is mentioned of a child that was to be thrown into water One custom involved putting the child in a covered grave; but the most common method was to leave the death or life of the child to fate by exposing it in an out of the way place; for example between heaped-up stones or in a hollow under a tree root; regardless of the place it was tolerably secured against wild animals. Sometimes a piece of pork was given to extend its life in case anyone should happen to find the child and take pity upon it.

“Thórkatla, Asgrim’s wife, bore a boy, and he ordered it to be exposed. The Ţrall who was to dig the grave whetted a hoe, and laid the boy on the floor. Then they heard the boy sing –

‘Let me get to my mother,
It is cold for me on the floor,
What is fitter for a boy
Than his father’s arms.
You need not whet the iron,
Nor cut the turf,
Leave this hideous work,
I shall live yet with men.’

Thereupon the boy was water-sprinkled and named Thorstein.” - Landnáma V. Chapter 6

The custom of exposing children is deeply rooted in the minds of people that not even Christianity could not prevent it at first; requiring the new Christian governments to pass laws to deal with the practice.

It was then made law, that all men of the country should become Christians, and such as were not baptized should be so. But in regard to child exposure and the eating of horseflesh the old law was to stand; men would be allowed to sacrifice in secret, if they wished to, but became outlaws if witnesses saw it.” - Islendingabók, Chapter 7

Sigvat skáld and other Icelanders were with King Olaf as been told. Olaf enquired carefully how Christianity was kept in Iceland. He thought it was very badly kept when they told him that it was allowed by the laws to eat horseflesh and expose children as the heathens used to do.” - St. Olaf’s Saga, Chapter 56

It was a common practice by chiefs and other leading men to have the children sent away from home to be raised and educated with a distinguished friend for the future duties in life. Those who received the children were bound to treat the children as if they were their own; with love and kindness; the sagas provide many examples of the foster parent relationships to the foster children.

A general custom was first to have the child knésetja (knee-seated) or put on the knees of the man who was to be the fosterer; the child was then called the knésetningr (knee-seated) of his foster-father, who bestowed upon the child as much care as if he had been his own child.

Harald (Gormsson) took Harald, son of Eirik (Blood-axe), to raise him and knee-seated him he was raised in his hird.29 - Fornmanna Sögur, I, Chapter 19

Höskuld, an Icelandic chief, having died and his sons having held arvel after him, one of these, Thorleik by name, was jealous of his stepbrother Olaf, whose mother was Melkorka, an Irish king’s daughter, who had been bought as a Ţrall by Höskuld. To conciliate him. Olaf offered to foster Thorleik’s son saying: ‘I will foster thy son, for he is always called a lesser man who foster the child of another.’30 - Laxdćla, Chapter 27

When a man agreed to raise the child of another man through foster it was considered the fosterer was a man of lower status or subordinate position than that of the father. An excellent example of this is Harald Fairhair and Athelstan of England.

At this time there ruled over England a young king, Adalstein (Athelstan) the Good, who was one of the most high-born men in Northern lands. He sent men to Norway to King Harald with a message. The messenger went before the king and gave him a sword the handle and hilt of which were ornamented with gold. The whole scabbard was ornamented with gold and silver, and set with precious stones. The messenger held out the sword-handle towards the king, and messenger held out the sword-handle towards the king, and said: ‘Here is a sword which Adalstein, King of England, sent you as a gift.’ The king took hold of the handle, and at once the messenger said: ‘Now you have taken hold as our king wanted, and after this you will be his thegn and sword-taker.’ King Harald felt that this was sent to delude him, thought much over it, and asked his wise men if the messenger should be killed or the king disgraced in any other manner, for he would not be the thegn of the Engla King or any other man in the world. Then King Harald at the persuasion of his remembered that it was not king-like to kill the messengers of another king, who bore the message of their master without adding to it; but to let plot contend against plot, and word against word; and he let the men of the Engla King go in peace. The following summer Harald sent a ship west to England, and gave the command of it to his best friend. Haul Hálbrók. The king gave into his hands a child which a bondwoman of the king’s by name Thora Mostrstöng, had borne. She was a native of Mostr in Sunnhördaland. This boy was named Hakon, and the mother said he was the son of King Harald. But Hauk came west to England, and found King Adalstein in Lundúnir (London), and went before him when the tables were cleared and greeted him. The king bade him welcome. Then Hauk said: ‘Lord, Harald, the King of the Northmen, sends you good greeting, and therewith sends you a white bird well trained and asks you to train it better hereafter.’ He took the child from his cloak and put it on the knee of the king, who looked at him, but Hauk stood in front of the king, and did not bow to him; he had under the left side of his cloak a sharp sword, and thus all his men were dressed, and they were altogether thirty. Then King Adalstein said: ‘Who owns this child?’ Hauk answered: ‘A bondswoman in Norway, and King Harald said that thous shouldst raise her child.’ The king answered: ‘This boy has not the eyes of a thrall!’ Hauk answered: ‘The mother is a bondwoman, and she says that King Harald is the father, and now the boy is thy knee-seater, and now thou owest him as much as thy own son.’ The king answered: ‘Why should I raise the child of King Harald’s own wife, much less the child of a bondwoman?’ and with one hand he grasped a sword lying at his side and the child with the other. Then Hauk said: ‘Thou hast taken as fosterer one child of King Harald’s and knee-seated it, and thou mayest murder it if thou wishest, but thou wilt not therewith kill all the sons of King Harald, and it will be said hereafter, as has been said before, that he who fosters the child of another is a lesser man.’ Thereafter Hauk went away, and took the cloak on his left arm and held his drawn sword in the other hand; the one of his men who had entered the last went out first. This done they went down to their ship, and as there was fair wind from the land out to sea, they made use of it, sailing to Norway. And when they came to King Harald he thanked Hauk well for his journey. King Adalstein had Hakon raised at his Court and he was afterwards called Athelstan’s foster-son. In these dealings of the kings it was seen that each of them wanted to be regarded as higher than the other, but there was no difference made between their rank on this account, and each of them was king in his realm till his death-day.” - Fagrskinna, Chapter 21 – 22

When raising and educating boys there was particular attention paid to the physical development of the boys; both physical and intellectual accomplished were called idrottir. The most important of the physical training was that of handling many different types of weapons; in addition to riding horseback, swimming, snow-shoeing, running, rowing, wrestling, working in wood and metal, and harp-playing. There are also incidents where additional training in the training and managing dogs, falcons and hunting hawks. For intellectual training there is the runes, laws, the art of poetry, the remembrance of deeds of heroes, eloquence, skill in draughts or checkers, chess and foreign languages.

Kali the son of Kol, settled in the Orkneys, known as a kindly and accomplished man composed the following stanza:

I am ready to play chess,
I know nine idrottir,
I shall scarcely forget the runes,
I am a book-reader and smith;
I can slide on snow-shoes,
I shoot and row usefully,
I know too both
Harp-playing and metres.

- Orkneyinga Saga, Chapter 49 -

It is told that Hjördis gave birth to a boy, and he was carried to King Hjalprek. He was glad when he saw the flashing eyes in his head, and said no one would be his equal, and he was water-sprinkled with the name Sigurd; all people say the same of him, that in vigor and size no man was his equal. He was brought up by Hjalprek with great affection. When all the famous men and kings in the old Sagas are named, Sigurd will be the foremost in strength and accomplishments, energy and valour, which he had in a higher degree than any other man in the northern half of the world. Sigurd grew up there with Hjalprek, and every child loved him; he betrothed Hjördis to King Alf, and fixed her mund. The foster-father of Sigurd was Regin son of Hreidmar; he taught him idrottir, chess, runes and how to speak many tongues, as then was the custom with kings’ sons and many other things.” - Volsunga Saga, Chapter 13

Raising a child in secret oddly enough was not allowed as it is demonstrated here:

King Harald Hardradi, during a visit to the Norwegian chief Áslák, inquired of him if he was not well versed in the laws established by the late king, Olaf Haraldsson (digri). Áslák saying that he was, the king asked him if he knew what punishment was given for having a son fostered in secret. Áslák replied that he did not know, but that a man might have his child fostered where he pleased. The king answered that he would lose lands and life. Áslák confessed he could not see why such a severe punishment should be imposed, but, however, it did not concern him. The king informed him that it did, as he had a son fostered in secret, at the same time naming the man who told him. Áslák then acknowledged having had a son named Heming, who at first was very promising, but after awhile became insane, and therefore had been sent far away from Torgar (Áslák’s home), and he now did not know whether this son lived or was dead. The king said he should soon go away, but would return next season, and then expect to see either Heming or his bones, if he should be dead.” - Flateyjarbók, III


1. Ausa moldu means to pour mould on (to burry). In the Ynglingatal the expression ausinn (another form of the verb) haugi is used of a man buried in a mound.

2. Some form of water rite under one shape or another was practiced by Egyptians, Greeks, Persians, Hebrews, Romans and Hindu. In the Frankish annals, the Northmen when they were baptized were led into the rivers, a custom which apparently prevailed among the earlier Christians with adult people.

3. See also: Halfdan the Black’s Saga chapter 7; Laxdćla chapter 28; Fornmana Sögur, i., page 31; Olaf Trygvason i., pages 13 – 14;

4. Svarfdća, chapter 5.

5. A reference to Sigurd’s name ‘Snake Eye’.

6. Heaven.

7. King.

8. This the only place where Neri is mentioned.

9. It is probable that this third string northwards was a string of bad luck or evil fate; but Bugge says it meant Helgi’s fame in the North, which was to be everlasting.

10. Sigmund, Helgi’s father, is here called son of the Ylfings, though he was of the Völsunga family. Even Helgi himself is called Skjöldung in the second Helgi lay.

11. The friend of wolves – a warrior who by his fights gave food to the wolves.

12. Dögling has two meanings: (1) a descendant of Dag; (2) a chief of any family.

13. The giving of garlic at the ceremony of name-fastening, seems to have had some symbolic meaning. From St. Olaf’s Sage we see that it was used for curing wounds; in Gudrunar Kvida the leek is used as opposed to grass, perhaps implying that the child to whom it was given would stand as high among men as it did amongst grass.

14. King.

15. These estates were given to him with the name-fastening, as was customary.

16. Ring-steads.

17. Sun mountains.

18. Snow mountains.

19. Fields of Sigar.

20. Ring-harbour.

21. High town.

22. Heaven-fileds.

23. Sword.

24. See also Hrolf Kraki’s Saga, chapter 42.

25. Three fasting-times.

26. Probably a field belonging to a temple.

27. See also Earlier Gulathing’s Law, 21.

28. Torfi had been vexed at Signy’s marriage, because he was away when the betrothal took place, and had not been consulted about the match.

29. See also Harald Fairhair’s Saga, chapter 21.

30. See also Hord’s Saga, chapter 9.


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