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Five Animals Suited for Viking Inspired Tattoos

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Empowered by the Natural World

The Vikings had a close affinity with the natural world. They relied on nature to provide for them and they lived in harmony with the seasons. The Vikings were never ones to waste a natural resource and they often appreciated the animals that shared their lands with them.

With most Scandinavians being outside for much of their lives, they witnessed the subtle behaviours of the animals around them. The Old Norse quickly learnt to respect the traits of these animals, as they were able to survive in hostile conditions alongside them.

The following piece looks at the characteristics of the animal and explores the symbolism that a Viking would wish to present to the world by having his flesh marked with the creature's likeness.

An Apex Predator

The howling wolf

The howling wolf

1/ The Wolf

The wolf plays a major role in the Old Norse culture and the wolf is often linked to many of the tales within the sagas chronicling the era. Wolves were native to much of the area that Vikings originated from and for a culture that spent great amounts of time hunting, they were bound to cross paths with each other quite frequently.

When resources were low, the two parties became very aggressive to one and other, but when nature provided enough for all. The Vikings tended to admire the majesty of this land based predator.

The sagas list a few of the following wolves who interact with gods and mankind.

  • Fenrirs
  • Skoll
  • Freki
  • Garm
  • Geri
  • Hati

We know that the Vikings appreciated their positive traits as they often invoked the spirit of the wolf to aid them in survival or in battle. The Viking name Ulf and Ulfa were given names to male children who showed or needed the characteristics of the wolf.

The wolf was respected for its cunning in the wild and as the wolf often hunted in packs the Viking war bands often drew a similar parallel to the wolf-pack and their own company of warriors.

Further information on the importance of the wolf to ancient cultures can be found here.

'The Wolf and its use in Mythology'.

The Powerful Bear

The bear is highly regarded in Scandinavian cultures

The bear is highly regarded in Scandinavian cultures

2/ The Bear

The bear was an animal that many Viking warriors wished to evoke. It was a brutal predator that made short work of enemies that were of a similar size to it. A bear is a hulking and powerful creature with a muscular physique when stood upright. The bear was a living giant when stood on its hind-legs and it was ferocious in both attacking their prey and defending its family against all threats.

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The Norse called their children Bjorn in honour of the strength and power of the largest land based predator that the Vikings lived alongside. The skins of bear were an integral part of the beserker warriors and the power that they projected. The beserkers were early pioneers of psychological warfare as it seemed that the warrior was more animal than a mortal and fragile man.

For some unknown reason the bear is extremely popular in Finland. The Finnish people think highly of the bear to this day and hunting of the animal is strictly controlled by the state. The wolf on the other hand is classed as a dangerous threat and when one is killed, there is not much outpouring of grief for the carnivorous predator.

The Keen-Eyed Raven

The raven kept watched as bloody battle commenced below it.

The raven kept watched as bloody battle commenced below it.

3/ The Raven

The Hrafn or the raven was often a name bestowed on would be leaders who possessed the cunning and vision to scheme their way to success. The ravens were well used in Viking mythology and Odin himself had two obedient ravens that allowed him to spy on the surrounding area. These ravens were called Huginn and Muninn, each one was important to the leader of the Norse gods as they acted in the role as his familiars.

The raven is closely associated with war, as it is a carrion eating bird. The Norse would see them feasting on the dead after battle and associate them as a favourable omen for the departed's afterlife. The two birds would be the scouts for the Odin and he would see how well the brave warriors acted in battle, if impressed enough he would intervene and send them on to feast in Valhalla as one of his chosen few.

In the later Viking years, the raven came a powerful and symbolic totem for the great armies that thought throughout Europe. The raven banner was a spiritual banner that linked the army directly to Odin. Opponents believed it a grim statement and associated it with impending doom and wicked magics. The banner and the raven were linked to noble bloodlines who had bloodied much of the continent of Europe.

An Aggressive Pig

The boar was powerful, muscular and savage.

The boar was powerful, muscular and savage.

4/ The Boar

The boar is a symbol that the Vikings associated with fertility and strength. The boar is the totem of the god Frey and in the Viking Age some warriors used to adorn their shields with a boar's head to honour this powerful god. The Vikings saw the boar as fiercely territorial of its home and family orientated. It provided for its family and kept away unwanted intruders with its tusks.

The boar is mentioned in the Prose Edda and the boar was powerful enough to pull the chariot of Frey to the funeral of the slaughtered god Baldur.

Two boars are mentioned in the Norse Sagas and they are.

  • Gullinbirtsi= which belonged to the god Frey.
  • Hildesvini- which belonged to the goddess Freya.

The boy's name Jorr is Old Norse for 'wild boar' and such a name was thought to guarantee protection for the young warrior in battle.

The Midgard Serpent

The serpent has many different meanings in Norse mythology

The serpent has many different meanings in Norse mythology

5/ The Serpent

The serpent is a tricky subject when it comes to the Vikings. The serpent will destroy many of the powerful gods and bring creation to a violent end. But, in return it will destroy itself and usher in a new era of prosperity for a new generation. The serpent covers a few real and imaginary creatures. Like the wyrd, a serpent can be used to describe anything from worms, snakes, sea monsters and dragons.

In Iceland the name Dreki translates as dragon and it is often used as a first or middle name. The name Orm is also given to those who share attributes with the mystical creature. Yet Orm can also be applied to someone who is worm-like as an insult if the speaker so chooses.

Anything that wriggles on the ground or within the water seems to be given an interchangeable name. The use of snake like figures in Norse history is well documented and their symbols can still be seen in places where the Viking's influence was strong.

Which Animal do you Relate With?

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2019 Andrew Stewart

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