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The Skald Factor

The profession of the skald was an honoured one in the old days. Our modern-day Viking Skald, Eric from the band Ravensdale, gives us an impression of what it was like and why it was such a valued profession.

Take a look around and scan your surroundings… nearly everywhere you look, there is a piece of technology that allows you to access different types of media, be this music, film or the written word, all the information one can desire, accessible by a click of a button or by reaching your hand towards the bookshelf.
Modern day Skalds pictured outside Slane Castle

Now let’s go back in time just over a thousand years. Imagine that you are in your family home… usually shared with another family and your livestock. It is winter, there is no electricity, no internet. The wooden structure of your dwelling is finished off by a thatched roof and you are lucky if it is not leaking. The night falls quick like a woodcutter’s axe and the cold sets in as you all gather around the fire to stay warm. This is not the season for gathering much, the snow and frost work against you, and outside of your occasional hunting or fishing, you rely on the pre-winter harvest and supplies to survive.
Sickness or the common cold can usually mean life or death. Your life expectancy is on average 25 years with the lucky ones living long enough to reach 50 and be considered elders. Most of your relatives are illiterate and while they may have been taught a skill, the written word has likely remained unknown to them.
This is where the Role of the Story Teller comes into play. The Celts had their “Bard”, the Slavs the “Piesniarz” and the Norse had the “Skald”. Through poem and song, accompanied sometimes by music, the history and knowledge of great heroes and ancestors would be passed. The myth and legend of the various pantheon of Gods and their deeds would live on to the next generation.
The performer would often be employed by the court of the ruling class and over 300 Skalds have been noted to have served Scandinavian rulers between the VIII and XIII century.
Some of what we know today about the Norse myths and deeds comes from the “Edda” textbook compiled by Snorri Sturluson in XIII century Iceland, long after the Viking age was over and Christianity had established its dominance across Europe.
Worth mentioning is an Old English poem originating sometime around the VII Century, which depicts VI century Scandinavia and tells the tale of Beowulf; giving us some insights to the kingdom of Danes and some of their customs. It was famously translated into English by Seamus Heaney.

While the fundamental purpose of the Skald may have been to entertain, in fact it has served a purpose of documenting the cultural and religious heritage.
So now that you are all warming up by the fire, wrapped around your warm blankets, you continue to listen to the tales, music and join in…Life is short, it is dark outside, so you should make the most of it.

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