Vestiges of the Vikings: Magic Buried in a Viking Woman’s Grave
Murky, elusive and undefined, the religion of the pre-Christian Vikings has long been subject to debate. Contemporary texts of their spiritual worship do not survive, and the later records that do survive stem from Christian authors. Thus they are tainted with a Christian worldview and anti-pagan opinions. The magic of the Vikings, however, is somewhat a secondary field of interest. Though intricately linked with the pagan beliefs of the Norse, it is in many ways more undefined due to the ritual sacrifice of magical items.
In 1894, a curved metal rod was discovered in a 9 th-10th century female grave in Romsdal, Norway. Scholars have debated its intention for years, shuffling between theories that it was a “fishing hook or a spit for roasting meat”, before realizing in 2013 that it was likely a form of a magic wand. The bend toward the top of the wand was seemingly made just before the wand was laid to rest with the woman, as if to stem its magical properties. This particular wand fits the traditional mold of a seiðr wand based on previous discoveries dating from the 9 th and 10 th centuries. It is long (at 90cm), made of iron (consistent with the materials circulating of the Norse Iron Age) with “knobs attached to them” for the benefit of the wielder.
The Viking metal rod that is believed to have been a magic wand. Credit: Trustees of the British Museum
It is important to note that it was very common in Viking funerary traditions for weapons or items to be ceremoniously broken or bent before burial. Though the exact reasons for these actions are uncertain, it is believed by scholars such as Thomas DuBois and Neil Price that such alterations were part of the funeral itself. The weapons of a warrior, for instance, or the wand of a witch, in this case, were forcibly made impotent or non-functional just as the warrior could no longer fight, and the witch could no longer perform magic.