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Performing Oaths in Eddic Poetry: Viking Age Fact or Medieval Fiction?
Anne Irene Riisoy

Journal of the North Atlantic, Special Volume 8 (2016): 141–156

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Journal of the North Atlantic A.I. Riisoy 2016 Special Volume 8 141 Introduction Traditionally associated with Viking Age mythology, the eddic poems also take a keen interest in various legal procedures, which were applied in order to settle various disputes. In this paper, the focus will be on oaths, and a fine example is found in the Lay of Volund, where Volund, prince of the elves and smith extraordinaire, was captured and held prisoner by Nidud, a king among the Swedish people. In revenge, Volund killed the king’s two young sons and impregnated Bodvild, the king’s daughter. Before Volund was willing to tell what became of the boys, King Nidud had to swear oaths that he would not harm Bodvild (Table 1). King Nidud’s oath is also an example of how an oath may be sworn in the real world, and this statement will be further elaborated below. King Nidud’s oath involved a formulaic swearing: at scips borði /oc at scialdar rǫnd, at mars bægi / oc at mækis egg, by the side of a ship and the rim of a shield, the back of a horse and the edge of a blade, As Table 1 shows, eddic poems refer to oaths that were sworn on other items too, for example rings and stones. The meaning of invoking such items in an oath-swearing process and to what extent such oaths were actually applied in real-life situations, have been debated. In a comprehensive study on the weapon oath among the Gothic peoples (Om de Gotiske Folks Våbenéd) of 1871, Sven Grundtvig argued that oaths were frequently sworn on weapons, and that people believed that the weapons would turn against the oath-breakers if they broke the oath. Moreover, the heathen gods were invoked, and they were thought to become angry with perjurers (Läffler 1905). It is an ongoing debate whether we can extrapolate the colorful swearing of oaths on various objects back to a Viking Age reality, and in particular to what extent heathen gods were invoked. According to Elsa Sjöholm, who dominated research on Scandinavian legal history in the 1980s and 1990s, the swearing of oaths was not originally a heathen procedure because the earliest continental Germanic laws (Leges Barbarorum), which date from the 5th century until the 9th century, proscribe swearing on the Bible or other consecrated objects controlled by the Church (Sjöholm 1988:54–57). In a recent study on the cult of the god Thor in the Viking Age, Lasse Christian Performing Oaths in Eddic Poetry: Viking Age Fact or Medieval Fiction? Anne Irene Riisoy* Abstract - It is argued here that eddic poetry, where oaths were sworn on items like rings and weapons, can provide insight into practices of swearing oaths in the real world of the Vikings. It is problematic that the earliest surviving manuscripts of the eddic poems date from the late 13th century, but other sources, including written sources from outside Scandinavia, evidence the existence of such oaths. The workings of the oaths rested on beliefs that the gods, and the items invoked in the process, would take vengeance on oath-breakers. When Christianity arrived, the procedure continued, but in a new wrapping: around the year 1000 A.D., God replaced the gods, items like weapons and rings disappeared from the procedure, and instead, people swore on items like the Bible or the cross. This transformation of a legal procedure rooted in heathen times into a procedure accepted in a Christian context seems to have taken place among the other Germanic peoples and Celts who converted to Christianity centuries before the new religion reached Scandinavia. Debating the Thing in the North: The Assembly Project II Journal of the North Atlantic *The University College of Southeast Norway, Faculty of Humanities, Sports, and Education; Anne.Irene.Riisoy@hbv.no. 2016 Special Volume 8:141–156 Table 1. Details of the Eddic oaths, including who made the oaths, items invoked, poem and stanza in which the oath can be found, and page numbers in the Old Norse (Neckel and Kuhn 1983) and transl ated versions (Larrington 1996). Who Neckel and swore Items Poem, stanza Kuhn Larrington 1. Nidud Ship, shield, horse, the edge of a blade Lay of Volund, 33 122 107 2a. Dag Ship, horse, sword A Second Poem of Helgi Hundingsbani, 32–33 157 138 2b. Sigrun Sigrun turns Dag’s oath into a curse A Second Poem of Helgi Hundingsbani, 32–33 157 138 2c. Sigrun Bright water of Leift and Unn’s stone A Second Poem of Helgi Hundingsbani, 31 157 138 3. Odin Ring Sayings of the High One110 34 29 4a. Atli Sun, the mountain of War-god, marital bed, The Lay of Atli, 30 245 214 ring of Ull 4b. Gudrun Turns Atli’s oath into a curse The Lay of Atli, 30 245 214 5. Gudrun Sacred white stone The Third Lay of Gudrun, 3 232 203 Journal of the North Atlantic A.I. Riisoy 2016 Special Volume 8 142 Arboe Sonne (2013) argued that we have no evidence whatsoever that the Vikings used temple-rings and oath-rings. One means to avoid the vexed issue of historicity is to undertake an investigation confined within the timeless world of texts. Peter Habbe, for example, considered it irrelevant for his study on legally binding rituals in Old Norse society whether the swearing on oath rings occurred outside the “text-world” (textvärlden). Habbe did not leave the issue of historical context entirely open, and he argued that the “mystic and magic” (mystik och magi) and “religious discourse” (religiös diskurs) connected with the Old Norse oath is due to the influence of Christian ideas, typically swearing “on the cross” or on the Bible (Habbe 2005:141–144, 160). In Habbe’s (2005:157) opinion, a man put his honor at stake when he took an oath, and honor was thus the “security” (pant) which conferred legitimacy upon the system of oath-taking In this paper, I will argue that the oaths in the eddic poems were also used in the real world. In a society devoid of any central government that could guarantee law enforcement, it was necessary to tie oaths to the maximum safeguards. Religious connotations and items that were important in the pre- Christian world-view were therefore invoked. The oaths were formed as poetry, which facilitated their preservation at a time when law was still not written down. Also images and various items and props were important to convey and preserve legal meaning and change legal status. I have found inspiration in Bernard J. Hibbitts study on Communication and Legal Expression in Performance Cultures, where he argued that law in early medieval Europe should be placed in a so-called “performance culture” rather than an “oral culture” because non-verbal expressions like gesture, image, touch, and taste were also important to express meaning and change legal status (Hibbitts 1992:883). The most common Old Norse term for oath (eið) and the corresponding verb “to swear” sverja have cognates in all Germanic languages, and these terms are of considerable antiquity (Green 1998:158, Schmidt-Wiegand 1977:75–76). For example, in Scandinavia an early “oath” aiþa- runic inscription is found on a 4th-century Nydam axe-shaft from Jutland (Antonsen 2002:10–12, Herschend 2001:366–370, Mees 2013).1 Ruth Schmidt-Wiegand and David H. Green, who for decades have intersected linguistic studies with archaeology and history agree that eið can be phonologically and semantically traced back to the Indo-European *oitos “walk, going”; the implicit notion is ceremonially going to an oath (Green 1998:158, Schmidt-Wiegand 1977:75–76). The Old Norse verb sverja probably originates from the set expression sverja eiðum (“by oath promising someone something”) and Indo-European *sver means “to speak”, “make a sound” (Fritzner [vol. III] 1973:619–620, Torp 1919:754). The eddic oaths are presented in Table 1, with reference to poem and page numbers in Gustav Neckel and Hans Kuhn (1983; Old Norse) and Carolyne Larrington (1996; translation). The majority of the eddic poems, often referred to as the Poetic Edda, are preserved in the manuscript Codex Regius, where an Icelandic scribe copied them down in the 1270s. There is great disagreement among scholars in regards of when the eddic poems were first composed. Whereas the majority of the eddic poems were probably composed during the Viking Age, linguistic features correlated with material remains indicate that some of the stories they tell may be even older (Fidjestøl 1999, Nerman 1931).2 The long time-gap between the surviving manuscripts and the supposed dates of oral composition of the eddic poems is evidently a problem. In my opinion, however, Viking Age written sources from outside Scandinavia and archaeology attest to the existence of oaths similar to those in the eddic poems, and this argument will be further elaborated below. Viking Weapon-oaths from Volga to Wirral King Nidud swore oaths on a ship, horse, shield, and the “edge of a blade”, and as shown in Table 1, Dag (no. 2a) invoked similar items when he took an oath: a ship, a horse, and a sword. This practice bears semblance to historically attested oaths. Several 10th-century treaties between Greeks from Constantinople and Rus, who were most likely of Swedish origin (Duczko 2004:17, 23, 210; Page 1995:97), detail the swearing of oaths (cf. Stein-Wilkeshuis 2002). For example, according to a fragmentary peace treaty of 907, the parties bound themselves by oath, and whereas the Emperors Leo and Alexander “kissed the cross”, the Rus, according to their religion, “swore by their weapons” (Sherbowitz-Wetzor 1953:65). Four years later the Rus confirmed a treaty (on compensation to victims of injuries, theft, and revenge) “not merely in words but also in writing and under a firm oath sworn upon our weapons according to our religion and our law” (Sherbowitz- Wetzor 1953:66). In the Carolingian realm, various sources mention Danes who swore oaths that differed from normal Frankish procedure. For instance, in A.D. 811, The Royal Frankish Annals noted that Danish magnates (primores) corroborated the peace agreement “according to their own rights and customs” (Garipzanov 2008:13). Some 50 years later, in A.D. 863, The Annals of St-Bertin reported that the Journal of the North Atlantic A.I. Riisoy 2016 Special Volume 8 143 chieftain Weland came to the emperor Charles and that he “and the men he had with him swore solemn oaths in their own way” (Nelson 1991:98). Unfortunately, in neither of those two cases are the Danish customs further elaborated. We are better informed when Paris was captured and held ransom in A.D. 845. Ragner and other Viking leaders came to King Charles the Bald and in the church of St. Denis they “swore by their gods and their weapons that they would never again enter his domain unless they were his allies” (Steenstrup [vol. II] 1878:155). When a peace between the Danes and the Saxons was ratified in A.D. 873, the Annals of Fulda reported that the Danes “swore on their weapons, according to the custom of that people” (Reuter 1992:70–71). Viking oaths are also recorded across the English Channel. In Wirral in northwest Mercia in the early 900s, the new settlers were predominantly of Norse origin but also included some Danes and Irish. A case recorded in the Three Fragments of the Irish Annals informs that the Irish intended to bring the Danes “to swear to a place where it will be easy to kill them”. It seems to have been common knowledge that the Danes “will be swearing by their swords and by their shields, as is their custom, they will lay aside all their missile weapons”, and consequently many were killed. The chronicler tersely noted that the Irishmen did this to the Danes “because they were less friends to them than to the Norsemen” (Cavill et. al. 2000:22–23). Putting away weapons before taking an oath may have been a fairly common Viking practice. In 941, the heathen among the Rus, before they swore to representatives from Constantinople, “shall lay down their shields, their naked swords, their armlets, and their other weapons” (Sherbowitz-Wetzor 1953:77). Other early Germanic peoples swore oaths on weapons, which is evidenced in several of the Leges Barbarorum and also in other sources (Grundtvig 1871:6–14, Hüpper-Dröge 1981:126). The so-called ring-swords, characterized by a small ring fixed to the hilt, symbolized the relationship between the Frankish king and his retainers. These swords may have combined the swearing of oaths on rings with the swearing of oaths on swords (Davidson 1994:71–77, Steuer 1987). The Poem of Helgi Hiorvardsson mentions a sword with a ring on the hilt Hringr er í hialti (stanza 9; Neckel and Kuhn 1983:143, Larrington 1996:125), and Birger Nerman (1931:41–44, 59), who studied the eddic poems in the light of archaeology, argued that such swords belonged to the 6th century (cf. Davidson 1994:71–77). It was an ancient Germanic practice to use weapons in various legal situations (Grundtvig 1871, Hüpper- Dröge 1981). For example, the 1st-century Roman politician and historian Tacitus noted that among the Germans, spears conferred legal validity at the assembly (Germania 11.1; Rives 2002:81–82, 172) and the term gairethinx, literally “spear-assembly”, in the Lombard Laws reflected the same idea. By the time the Lombard Laws were written down (A.D. 643), gairethinx had become any witnesses’ public act (Drew 1973:259, Hüpper-Dröge 1981:122). Political changes were also validated this way, and Paul S. Barnwell (2003:13–14) discussed an episode from the early 500s where the inhabitants of Cologne approved the Merovingian King Clovis’ acquisition of power over them with a clash of weapons. Traces of a “spear-assembly” is found much later in the Old Norse term vápnatak which also entered the Old English legal language as wæpengetæc, where it took on the meaning of legal district (Hüpper-Dröge 1981:121). In several of the Leges Bararorum, the spear was also part of legal ceremonies, in which it could accompany gifts and confer freedom on slaves, and remnants of similar practices may be preserved in medieval Swedish law too (Brink 2011:154, Hüpper-Dröge 1981:122).3 Swearing on a Ring As seen in Table 1, Odin swore a ring-oath (baugeið) and Atli swore an oath on the ring (hringi) of Ull (nos. 3 and 4a). The two ring-terms, baugr and hringr, had the same function in this context, as they were both oath-rings. Other sources too note that rings were important items when oaths were sworn, and for the year A.D. 876, the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle noted that King Alfred managed to force a Vikings army under the command of King Guthrum into a short-lived truce, and him þa aþas sworon on þam hâlgan beage (“they swore him oaths on the sacred ring”) (Swanton 2000:75). The chronicler’s comment that this is something they had been unwilling to do before indicates that oaths among the heathen Scandinavians were graded in value, that the ring-oath ranked highest, and that the Anglo-Saxons were well informed on this issue. Also, the family sagas (Íslendingasögur), which describe events that purportedly took place in the 10th and early 11th centuries, but which were written down in the 13th and 14th centuries, contain a few episodes that describe the swearing of ring-oaths.4 Whether these episodes can illuminate the oath swearing recorded in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle is still debated. According to Sonne (2013:62) these saga episodes are “fanciful” (fantasifulde), and therefore they are useless as historical sources. In this respect, Sonne sided with other skeptics, e.g., Aage Kabell (1975). Sonne pointed out that because the sagas are useless as an interpretive framework, it is impossible to say whether the AngloJournal of the North Atlantic A.I. Riisoy 2016 Special Volume 8 144 Saxon description of Vikings swearing on rings has any historical bearing (Sonne 2013:69). In Sonnes opinion, “Ull’s ring” was not an oath-ring but simply an item that had importance for the composer of the lay and his audience, and that the ring referred to in the expression Baugeið Óðinn (no. 3 in Table 1) denoted a ring that was exchanged in an engagement ceremony and therefore was not an oathring (Sonne 2013:71–72). Besides, argued Sonne (2013:69), the swearing on oath-rings was most likely an Anglo-Saxon tradition in the first place. In the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, the English initiated the swearing, and furthermore, the chronicler presupposed a general knowledge that the concept of a holy ring-oath was known among the Anglo-Saxons (Sonne 2013:69). I would like to stress, however, that it was members of the Viking army, and not the Anglo-Saxons, who swore on the holy ring in A.D. 876. Even though the concept of a holy ring-oath clearly appears to have been known among the Anglo-Saxons, it is important to bear in mind that by the late 9th century they were long since converted to Christianity. The ring was, after all, at the center of the pre-Christian mythology, at least in Scandinavia, and this consideration will be further elaborated on below. Therefore, I would suggest that although Christians might accept heathens swearing on a holy ring, Christians themselves would waive such a practice. I agree with William A. Chaney’s assessment that although there is no evidence that the Anglo-Saxons used oathrings, the practice may have existed in pagan times (Chaney 1970:149). The memory of the oath-ring among the Anglo- Saxons may still have lingered on in the 9th century, perhaps also reinforced by their dealings with the Vikings. Otherwise it should be noted that the “ring” was certainly known among the Anglo-Saxons. For example, it was used as heriot “war-gear” and was originally a death duty where it took the form of the “return” of the weapons and horses that a lord had endowed his man when the bond between them was forged. Heriots were often commuted to cash payments, and Nicholas Brooks (1978:85–88) observed that they were normally paid in beagas, armilla, bradiola, i.e., rings or armlets (cf. Green 1998:67–68, Hedeager 2011:12–13).5 As a royal cult-object, the ring survived well into the 10th century, when the English king as generous giver of rings, beaggifa, is mentioned in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, which, argued Chaney, may reflect a sacral, irrational element in ring-giving (Chaney 1970:149). Among the Germanic peoples, it was customary to give rings as a form of reward or payment or as compensation for wrongdoings (Engeler 1991:111–114, Oliver 2002:86, Wendt 2007–2008). Yet another ring is mentioned in sources from the British Isles. In A.D. 994, King Maelseachlainn robbed the symbols belonging to the Norse king of Dublin, the sword of Carlus and Tomair’s ring. Mary Valente suggested that the ring originally belonged to Tomar, the first jarl mentioned in Irish sources, in A.D. 848. Tomar and his brother Olaf, the father of Carlus, were sons of the king of Laitlinn, probably somewhere in Norway (Valente 2008:64–80). It has also been suggested that Tomair may have been the Norse god Thor (Brink 1996:46–47; Sundqvist 2007:174, 187). In support of this argument, Olof Sundqvist mentioned Torgrim and Torolf, who both had the title of goði, were dedicated to Thor and had oath-rings (Kjalnesinga saga, ch. 2 [Hreinsson (vol. III) 1997:307–308]; Eyrbyggja saga, ch. 3–4 [Hreinsson (vol. V) 1997:133–134]). A goði (plural goðar) is the Old Norse term for someone who was both a chieftain and a cultic leader in heathen times, and gyðja signifies his female equivalent (Sundqvist 2007:64–66). Alternatively, Tomair might have been a goði, with a function similarly to Torgrim and Torolf. The names of these two men are interesting because, as Jón Viðar Sigurðsson (2011:89–90) pointed out, in the earliest decades of the settlement of Iceland it was twice as likely that a man who had a Thor-name was also a goði. The earliest attested goði from Scandinavia is probably found on a 5th-century runic inscription from Nord-Huglo in Western Norway (Sundqvist 2007:33–34). According to later Icelandic sources, the goði was in charge of the opening of the assembly, sacrificed within the sacred area of the assembly, and swore oaths on rings (Aðalsteinsson 1998:45–50, 1999:164–165). Place-names as well as runic inscriptions show that this office had once existed all over Scandinavia (Sigurðsson 2011:89–90, Sundqvist 2011:91). In eastern Scandinavia, Olof Sundqvist (2011) has found a preponderance of the presence of goðar in the vicinity of vé- place names. A vé place was separated from the profane (Vikstrand 2011), and a vé could also designate a thing (Brink 2002:106–108), which is yet another element that shows a parallel between the goðar in eastern and western Scandinavia (Sundqvist 2002:104). Gunnar Karlsson (2009) asserted that the reason why the goði institution was preserved in Iceland, whereas it disappeared in the other Nordic countries, can be found in the way Christianity was introduced and in the different political setting in Iceland compared to mainland Scandinavia. In pre-Christian times, kings as well as goðar had a special relationship with the divine, and when kings decided to change religious allegiance from the pagan gods to the one and only Christian God, they eradicated the goðar in the process. Iceland had no kings, and here Journal of the North Atlantic A.I. Riisoy 2016 Special Volume 8 145 it was the goðar who decided to convert, an action that was propelled by the wish to free themselves from the interference of the Norwegian King Óláfr Tryggvason (995–1000). This also explains why, in Iceland, the goðar retained their secular powers after the conversion (Karlsson 2009:77–91). Some rings are found which can reasonably be interpreted as oath-rings. The two most famous are the “Forsa ring” from Hälsingland in Sweden from the 9th or early 10th century, on which short-branched runes record a legal rule (Brink 1996:27–55, Herschend 2009, Sundqvist 2007:164–190), and the Gothic Pietroassa ring from the early 5th century (cf. Riisøy, in press [this volume]). Other rings are found at central places, for example, at Tune in Gotland, Borg in Östergötland, Uppåkra in Scania, and Helgö in central Sweden, and these rings may have functioned similarly to the oath-rings described in the family sagas (Eriksen 2014, Fabech 2006, Sundqvist 2007:177–183). For example, according to Víga-Glúms saga, in late 10th-century Iceland Glum took “a temple oath on the ring” and denied the accusation of manslaughter to an unspecified “god” (Hreinsson [vol. II] 1997:307–308). Although the god Ull is connected with a ring upon which oaths were sworn, he is barely mentioned in the eddic poems. Ull probably had an important judicial role in pre-Christian times because, according to Snorri’s Edda, “he is a good one to pray to in single combat (einvígi)” (Faulkes 1987:26, Jónsson 1900:31). Snorri’s Edda is a handbook for aspiring poets written by Snorri Sturluson around 1220, and it contains excerpts from the eddic poems in addition to information otherwise unknown. Place names, in particular from the provinces around Lake Mälaren in central Sweden and in southeast Norway, indicate that Ull had a more prominent role in the Nordic pantheon before the Viking Age (Brink 2007:116–118, Olsen 1926:120). Lilla Ullevi, north of Stockholm, is the location of an ancient cult site measuring some 2000 square meters. This place name points to a connection between Ull and a vé, and as noted above, a vé may also denote a legal assembly, a thing. At Lilla Ullevi, 65 amulet iron rings of various sizes, which date from the Vendel period, were discovered. It does not seem too far-fetched to interpret these as Ull’s rings (Bäck et al. 2008, Riisøy 2013, Stenholm 2011:53). Lilla Ullevi was ritually “closed down” ca. A.D. 750, when it was covered in a layer of silt ~1 m thick (Stenholm 2011:55). Since then, it would appear that the place was unused for some 600 years, which is a long time for such a name to be preserved (Vikstrand 2011:59–60). Sacred places, or at least their names, may have been remembered for a very long time. Archaeologists started excavations in 2005 at another vé place, Götavi (Svensson 2011). Old maps, from 1638, 1719, and 1855 showed that through the centuries the location where the cult place was found was not used for farming, which clearly indicates respect and reverence. Remains of animal fat and animal bones and traces of phosphate, particularly on the eastern side of an approximately 15 m x18 m platform made of clay, indicate that animals were possibly slaughtered or sacrificed at this site. In this context, it is relevant to recall episodes which connect sacrifices of animals with legal activities, for example, an oath-ring reddened in the blood of a sacrificed ox, and the subsequent swearing of oaths (i.e., ch. 25, Víga-Glúms saga, Hreinsson [vol. II] 1997:307). At Götavi, a neck-ring of gold dated to the 5th or early 6th century was also found, and C14 dating of the remains of a burned tree indicate that the place probably ceased to function as a sacred place by the middle of the 11th century (Svensson 2011:75). Christoph Kilger (2008:253–325) placed the ring, with its legal, political, and symbolic aspects, at the center of the pre-Christian mythology. For example, at the burial of the god Baldr, Odin laid on the pyre a gold arm-ring called Draupnir, and every ninth night eight gold rings of the same uniformity of weight dripped from the ring (Snorri’s Edda; Faulkes 1987:96–97). Andreas Nordberg (2006:154) pointed out that this “should be counted as one ring per night in an eight-night cycle, because the last night in the interval was also counted as the first night in the following cycle”. Eight and nine were sacred numbers in the pre-Christian Norse mythology, and quite possibly this way of counting also applied at the sacrifices which took place at Uppsala and Lejre in the ninth year of every eight-year cycle (Nordberg 2006:154). In the heathen mythology, Draupnir was imbued with transcendental and sacred associations and therefore symbolized standards and value, and in order to make this concept concrete, rings laden with stories and ideas were made (Kilger 2008:253–325). Kilger (2008:253–325) therefore interpreted Draupnir, the prototype for rings that each reproduced itself with the same weight, as a symbol of the power of creation and rejuvenation, and the same principle underlies the weighing of precious metals. It is important to point out that the baugr was also a legal object, so when oaths were sworn upon it justice was divinely sanctioned. In fact, the legal significance of the ring may have survived the conversion. Whereas in heathen times a sacred ring lay inside the “temple” hof or hung on the doors of cultic buildings or aristocratic halls (Eriksen 2014), after the conversion, rings were hung on church doors. A case in point is the Forsaring from Hälsingland (cf. above), which was Journal of the North Atlantic A.I. Riisoy 2016 Special Volume 8 146 … by the sun curving to the south and the mountain of War-god, by the marital bed and by Ull’s ring In the Old Norse world-view, Sól had status as a goddess, and rock carvings indicate that the sun was already venerated as a life-giving heavenly body during the Bronze Age (Hoftun 1997, Simek 1993:297), although the role of the sun may have diminished after the global dust veil of A.D. 536 darkened it (Andrén 2014:185–186). The next element in this oath-formula, Sigtýs bergi, probably alluded to Odin’s mountain. The War-god, or Sigtýr, is one of the many names of Odin, meaning victory-god or battle-god (Faulkes 1987:96), and bergi “mountain” may also be tied to Odin because he is the god most frequently connected with high places in Old Norse sources and in other Germanic cultures too (Clay 2010:297, Dronke 1969:64).7 The next element in Atli’s oath, hǫlkvi, is connected with “horse”, and the compound term hvílbeðiar beð means “bed” or “bedding”. Hence hǫlkvi hvílbeðjar “the bed’s horse” may refer to the carved image of a horse’s head on the end-posts of Viking Age beds, as argued by Anne Holtsmark (1941) (see also Dronke 1969:64–64). The ship-burials Gokstad (ship dated to late 880s) and Oseberg (the oak which was used to build the burial chamber was felled in A.D. 834; Gansum 2004:33) have horse-headed bedposts. The horse had great symbolic importance in pre-Christian times, and Tacitus, back in in the 1st century, noted that the Germans had white sacred horses who were the intimates of the gods and that the omens of horses were held in great esteem (DuBois 2012; Rives 2002:81, 167; cf. Oma 2011). Atli had sworn this elaborate oath in connection with a marriage arrangement, and because a bed is an appropriate symbol of a marriage, it is plausible that a marriageoath may have been taken on horse-headed bedposts (Holtsmark 1941). Christian Fantasy-genre or Angry Gods and Avenging Swords What, exactly, was at stake when oaths were sworn in colorful words on various objects and heathen gods were invoked, and how was such a procedure supposed to work? According to one interpretation, such oaths merely reflected the high medieval authors’ fantasy and their conception of what heathen oaths might have been, and that in Scandinavia the origin of oaths can be placed firmly in a Christian context. This point of view was strongly expressed by Elsa Sjöholm, who approached the sources with a very strict method. She claimed that, because the Nordic medieval laws hanging on the door between the weaponry and the church in Forsa. Before the ring ended up in Forsa, according to 18th-century records, it was fastened on the door of Hög church. Hög church was situated close to the old thing mound and hence the old assembly site for the district (Brink 2003, Ruthström 1990). The ring in the new Christian setting may have served as a sanctuary ring; asylum seekers were free from persecution if they managed to touch the door ring, and on the Continent from the 9th to the 14th centuries, people took oaths on the church ring handle (see Eriksen 2014 for examples). The Diversity of Eddic Oaths Whereas King Nidud’s oath was sworn on weapons, a horse, and a ship, other images and items were also applied in the eddic oaths. For example, as shown in Table 1, no. 5, Gudrun swore oaths “by the sacred white stone” (hvíta helga steini) (the female involvement in legal procedures will be further discussed in Riisøy [in press, this volume]). The color white may in part explain why the stone was considered holy because written sources going back to the time of Christ evidence that the Germans saw the white color as sacred and charged with cosmic and divine power and also symbolizing the circle of life and rebirth (Dumézil 1973:124, Hoftun 1997, Näsström 2003:119).6 Unn’s stone may have had a similar function, and it appears to have been invoked when Sigrun turned Dag’s previous oath into a curse (nos. 2c and 2b in Table 1; cf. Thorvaldsen 2010, 2011). Unn probably refers to a well or the name of a wave (Faulkes 1987:257, Larrington 1996:321). Traditionally, the “sacred white stones” designated a special kind of phallus-shaped cultic stones in southwest Norway (Carlie 1999:48). When the found context is known, it appears that the sacred white stones were often located in or on graves and near grave mounds (Solberg 1999:99–106), close to farms with sacred names, and close to farms with medieval churches (Hedeager 2011:113). Many of those communal churches were built on the ancient thing for the district (Brink 2003:62). Stones were also important in other legal contexts. People stepped on a stone when they made pledges (Hen-Thorir’s Saga, ch.12; Hreinsson [vol. V] 1997:253–254), and stones were also important in the pre-Christian inauguration rituals where the king, as part of the investiture procedure, was lifted up onto a stone and given a royal name (Sundqvist 2001:624–644). As seen in Table 1, different items were invoked when Atli swore an oath: at sól inni suðrhǫllo / oc at Sigtýs ber gi, hǫlkvi hvílbeðiar / oc at hringi Ullar Journal of the North Atlantic A.I. Riisoy 2016 Special Volume 8 147 Eadred, abbot of Carlisle had a dream where St. Cuthbert, the patron saint of Northern England (ca. 634–687), appeared. According to this story, preserved in Extracts from the Anonymous “History of St. Cuthbert”, Vikings had conquered the land and allocated the estates of St. Cuthbert “to one called Olaf Ball”, the said Olaf was not only a “son of the devil” but was also exceedingly hostile to God as well as St. Cuthbert (Whitelock 1955:262). One day Olaf went raging into a church, where in the presence of Bishop Cuthheard and the whole community he asked what harm the dead Cuthbert could do? Olaf finished ranting with the following exclamation: “I swear by my holy gods, Thor and Othin, that from this hour I will be a great enemy to all of you.” Of course, the Christian side gets the last word—after all, a monk penned this episode. The chronicler goes on to gleefully report that when “this son of the devil”, Olaf that is, wished to depart, he fell dead and whereupon the devil trust his sinful soul into hell (Whitelock 1955:262). The heathen immediately falling dead after he swore such a profane oath in a church, bears the stamp of a Christian construction, possibly with a didactic end (Frense 1982), although I think it is important to stress that the scribe who penned this episode probably had a historically correct template. As the episodes above indicate, the invocation of heathen gods in connection with oath swearing seems to have been a normal Viking procedure, and it is quite likely that the Christian author of this episode was quite aware of this fact. In 1905, Leopold Fredrik Läffler pointed out that according to an old Swedish oath-formula the gods would get angry if the person who swore lied. In the section Af mandrapi (“On Manslaughter”) in the Old Västgöta Law that was first written down around 1220, there is an oath-formula that possibly reflects the practice in heathen times, when it was usual to call upon the gods: sva se mær guð hol (chapter 1; Schlyter 1827:10–11). Läffler noted that hol in this sentence is in nominative plural neuter; hence in this case, guð refers to “gods” (Läffler 1905). The formula can therefore be translated thus: “may the [pagan] gods be gracious to me”, and although Sjöholm (1988:259) is critical, other scholars support Läffler’s interpretation (Brink 2002:95; Frense 1982:256–259; Sundqvist 2001:642–643, 2002:327). In addition, the so-called Law of Úlfljótr expresses the same notion. Úlfljótr came from a powerful family from Hordaland in western Norway, and in the 920s, he went back to his maternal uncle Þorleifur spaki “the Wise” to learn law and bring it back to Iceland. The relevant story has been preserved in slightly different versions; it appears in the Landnámabók (“The Book of Settlements”), were built upon a learned tradition and foreign ideology (Christianity), they could at best tell only a little about Nordic society at the time of writing (Sjöholm 1988:50, 250–251). Several scholars have strongly opposed Sjöholm’s arguments and her methodological approach. Because she has compared a fairly limited number of provisions of Nordic law with a narrow and selected range of non-Nordic legal sources, virtually anything can be “proven”. Besides, the strength of oral traditions in illiterate societies was not taken into consideration. Sjöholm did not use runic and archaeological evidence, and she rejected the idea that a law may consist of several chronological strata. In recent years, several studies have focused on aspects of the pre-Christian Scandinavian laws (i.e., Brink 2002:87–110, Riisøy 2014, Røsstad 1997, Sundqvist 2002:310–311). Besides, the Bible does not have an entirely positive attitude towards oaths. For example, in Matthew 5:33–37, the basic message from God is quite clear: “Swear not at all, …”. The Christian God would be satisfied with a simple “Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil” (King James version; http://bibleresources.bible.com). I agree with Habbe (2013) that breaking an oath was highly dishonorable, but also contend that factors other than honor can explain why oaths should not be broken. A fear of the wraths of gods also prevailed, so, for example, when the Rus in A.D. 907 bound themselves by oath, in addition to swearing “by their weapons” they also invoked their gods Perun, the god of thunder, and Volos, the god of cattle (Sherbowitz-Wetzor 1953:65). Perun was the most important Slavic God, and the similarities between Perun and the Norse god Thor may have caused an amalgamation of the two gods among the Rus (Stein-Wilkeshuis 2002:161–162). An additional example occurred in A.D. 945 when “a bond of friendship” was established between the Greeks and the Rus, and this should last “henceforth and forever, as long as the sun shines and the world stands fixed”. God cursed a Christian violator, and an un-baptized Rus may not receive help from Perun (Sherbowitz-Wetzor 1953:74). In A.D. 971, when the Rus concluded a treaty by oath “until the end of the world”, they stipulated that if the treaty was broken, “may we be accursed of the god in whom we believe, namely of Perun and Volos, the god of flocks, and we become yellow as gold, and be slain with our own weapons” (Sherbowitz- Wetzor 1953:90). In addition, Danish Vikings swore “by their gods”, as happened in Paris in A.D. 845 when they concluded an agreement with King Charles the Bald (Steenstrup [vol. II] 1878:155). The heathen way of swearing oaths made quite an impression on some minds, and in the late 800s, Journal of the North Atlantic A.I. Riisoy 2016 Special Volume 8 148 which was probably compiled in the 12th century, in Þórðar saga hreðu and Þorsteins þáttr uxafóts (for the various transmissions and manuscripts see Olsen 1966:30–39). The Law of Úlfljótr refers to an oath taken on a ring and where the help of several gods is called upon: hjálpi mér svá Freyr ok Njǫrdr ok hinn almáttki áss (Hauksbók version of the Landnámabók; Benediktsson 1986:313–315). The last unspecified god, the almáttki “almighty” áss remains unknown, however, several suggestions, including Odin, Thor, Ull and even Christ, have been put forward (Sundqvist 2002:327). Whether this law is a genuine 10th-century law has been debated. Oluf Olsen (1966:48) argued that the Law of Úlfljótr is a Christian reconstruction and therefore a forgery, but others are more positive (Aðalsteinsson 1998:45–50, 1999:164–165; Brink 2002:109; Riisøy 2013; Sundqvist 2007:175–176). As noted above, since Olsen’s (1966) study, more potential oath-rings have been found, and, in addition, written sources from outside Scandinavia have been brought into the discussion. These factors have contributed to anchor the Law of Úlfljótr more firmly to the 10 th century. Therefore, I will argue that the oaths in the eddic poems reflect oaths in the real Viking world. Furthermore, that the breaking of oaths and perjury were considered offences against the gods, and binding oneself by an oath also meant that divine punishment could take effect in case the oath was broken. In this respect, the pre-Christian Old Norse oath was in line with far older Indo-European notions (Benveniste 1973:440–434). There is also another aspect that can give information on how the oaths were supposed to work. Grundtvig (1871:98) argued that the oath-taker couldn’t be separated from his weapons or other items on which he took his oaths. I think Grundtvig has drawn attention to a material point, namely that in pre-Christian society there was a profound belief that an oath-breaker would experience that the items on which he swore (whether weapons, horses, or ships) would turn against him if he broke the oath. Grundtvig (1871:91–92) used stanzas 31–33 of the Second Poem of Helgi Hundingsbani to elaborate his statement. Sigrun’s brother Dag has slain the hero Helgi, Sigrun’s husband (nos. 2a, 2b, and 2c in Table 1). Sigrun exclaims to her brother that she wishes all the oaths he swore to Helgi would rebound upon him, and that the objects upon which Dag swore, the ship and the horse, will fail him. Finally, Sigrun also curses Dag’s sword (Larrington 1996:138, Neckel and Kuhn 1983:157–158). Bítia þér þat sverð, er þú bregðir, / nema siálfom þér syngvi um h ǫfði May the sword that you wield never bite for you, unless it’s whistling above your own head …” When we recall king Nidud’s oath in the introduction, he invoked the same items as Dag; weapons, a horse, and a ship. Here the paraphrasing of the oath may have turned it into a poetic curse. Bernt Øyvind Thorvaldsen (2010:260–261, 2011) leaves open the question of whether Sigrun, through this curse, is the real cause of Dag’s future misery, or whether she only spells out a fate already assigned to Dag. A similar pronouncement that may have turned an oath into a curse occurs in the Lay of Atli, where Atli had ordered the execution of his brother-in-law Gunnar (stanza 30; Larrington 1996:214, Neckel and Kuhn 1983:245). When Atli’s wife Gudrun heard about Gunnar’s death, she exclaimed: Svá gangi þér, Atli, / sem þú við Gunnar áttir / eiða opt um svarða / oc ár of nefnda May it so befall you, Atli, as you gave in oath to Gunnar, / oaths you often swore and pledged early … The paraphrasing of an oath, thereby turning it into a poetic curse directed against an oath-breaker, occurred in other cultures too. In order to underpin the key element in the weapon-oath, Grundtvig also drew attention to an interesting ethnological analogy, roughly contemporary with his own times. When the “wild” tribes of the East Indies in 1837 under oath promised representatives of the British government that they would cease human sacrifice, they took earth, rice, and some water in their hands and uttered the following words: “may the earth deny me its fruits, the rice strangle me, the water drown me, the tiger eat myself and my children, if I ever break this oath which I here take on behalf of myself and my people” (Grundtvig 1871:98). I find Grundtvig’s argument convincing; if a person broke an oath, the items invoked would turn against the oath-breaker (cf. Davidson 1994:210, Holtsmark 1941:1). This notion is clearly expressed in a treaty of 945 between the Rus and the Greeks. If the Rus broke the treaty “may they rather be slain by their own swords, laid low by their arrows or by any of their own weapons, and may they be in bondage forever” (Sherbowitz-Wetzor 1953:74). Such formulations indicate that in pre-Christian times people actually believed that in the legal process a subtle shift from object to subject occurred because the items, which were applied in the oathtaking ceremony, could propel themselves into action and take vengeance on an oath-breaker. Hence the lines between living and dead matter became blurred. The practice of giving name to weapons, Journal of the North Atlantic A.I. Riisoy 2016 Special Volume 8 149 of such mixing of heathen and Christian elements is the so-called Peace Guarantee Speech (trygða mál), which has also been called an oath-formula. The handling and solving of conflicts in Old Norse Society involved elaborate spoken procedures. Trygð means that a peace or agreement of security had been finally settled, and confirmed by oath, and it was particularly used in cases of manslaughter and revenge (for recent discussions of this concept, see Øyrehagen Sunde [2007] and Thorvaldsen [2011]). One version of the Peace Guarantee Speech in the Icelandic law-book Grágás states that: “… if one of you tramples on treaties made or smites at sureties given, he shall be an outcast vargr despised and driven off as far and wide as ever men drive outcasts off, Christians come to church, heathens hallow temples, fire flames, ground grows, son calls mother, mother bears son, men make fires, ship glides, shields flash, sun shines, snow drifts, Lapp skis, fir tree grows, falcon flies a spring-long day with a fair wind beneath both wings, heavens revolve, world is inhabited, wind whistles, waters flow to the sea, men sow seed” (Dennis et al. 1980: 184–185). It is possible that the Grágás formula was applied in legal practice, as attested by episodes in the family sagas (I have so far come across Grettir's Saga, ch. 72, ca. A.D. 1000 “[Hreinsson (vol. II) 1997:161–162), and the Heiðarvíga saga, ch. 33, ca. A.D. 1014 [Hreinsson (vol. IV) 1997:121–122]). Well-spoken pledges invoked heathens and their temples as well as Christians and their churches. The origin of this particular Peace Guarantee Speech is probably Norwegian; a fragment has been preserved in the Old Law of the Gulathing, which applied for the southwest part of Norway (G § 320; Eithun et al. 1994:177, Keyser and Munch 1846:110). Some of the chosen images—Saami who ski and fir trees— would not be expected if the Icelandic world-view served as a template. In the Grágás formula, the phrasing concerning Christians and churches were possibly added last (see Vogt [1936] for an analysis of the different elements in this formula), and because these are listed alongside heathens sacrificing in temples, the final version of the formula probably originates from a period when the two religions co-existed without too much friction. This version of the formula that has survived in Grágás may have originated some time during the reign of King Hákon góði “the Good” (ca. 935–961). Hákon was fostered at the court of the Anglo-Saxon King Athelstan where he was introduced to the Christian faith, and he was the first king from Norway who tried to convert his people. The time was not yet particularly swords, also indicate that these were thought to somewhat be imbued with life; the same goes for ships and evidently horses. A further aspect of the “becoming alive” process is that material objects became invested with meaning because of the social interactions they engage in, that is, they accumulate “biographies” (Hedeager 2011:138). Draupnir, the deified prototype for rings, exemplifies how cosmological meaning was materialized in a specific object (Kilger 2008:253–325). Draupnir, like swords, was brought into existence through the process of skilled crafting, and the smith possessed esoteric knowledge. When swords were made, an additional facet may have come into play: when bone-coal (whether of animals or humans or both) was mixed with charcoal, carbon was transformed into iron bloom and into steel. This mixing of bones and iron could also symbolize the transference of an ancestor into a sword, and the sword came imbued with the strength and luck of the ancestor (Gansum 2004, Hedeager 2011:140, Østigård 2007:54). This forging process may have been one explanation of how a sword became infused with life and could turn against oath-breakers. A belief that some objects were “alive” and could take action was contrary to Christian thinking, and in addition, as long as a belief in angry gods executing revenge upon oath-breakers and perjurers prevailed, the authority of the one and only almighty Christian God would be undermined. A ban on oath swearing as such was not implemented when Christianity finally gained ascendancy. Most likely, the swearing of oaths was so ingrained in heathen legal practice that it was impossible to do without this procedure, and the easiest solution was to transfer oaths from a heathen into a Christian context. One such example concerns the Vikings in the east. By the mid-10th century, some Rus had evidently converted, because in 945 it was stipulated: “Those of us who are baptized have sworn in the Cathedral, by the Church of St. Elias, upon the Holy Cross set before us” (Sherbowitz-Wetzor 1953:77). The introduction of Christianity was a process that took several generations to complete, and at times and at certain places this process was probably also rather peaceful. In various parts of Scandinavia, heathens and Christians lived next door to each other, and because law was closely interwoven with religion, new Christian assemblies, which for a time existed alongside the traditional assemblies, were established (Sawyer 2000:151, Zachrisson 1998:154). However, occasionally conflicts and legal cases naturally came to cross religious boundaries, and one way to deal with such situations was to work out legal formulas, which catered to the religious sensibilities of both parties. An excellent example Journal of the North Atlantic A.I. Riisoy 2016 Special Volume 8 150 ic or symbolic power and reconciliations between the parties should last “as long as the wind blows from the clouds, grass grows, trees flower, the sun rises, and the world exists”. In Gaul and Ireland, the Celts swore pagan oaths by their gods (Mallory and MacNeill 1991) and by the elements such as “heaven, earth, sun, fire, moon, sea, land, day, night, etc., and these punished the breaker of the oath” (MacCulloch 1911:172–173). John Arnott MacCulloc (1911:172– 173) pointed out that oath formulas invoking the natural elements survived into Christian times; however, by then the faithful were forbidden to call the sun and moon gods or to swear by them. Performance in Order to Record, Create, and Transform King Nidud’s oath, quoted in the introduction, is very pleasing to the ear. Poetry sounds better than prose, and the rhythm in combination with the colorful images of ships and shields made this utterance easier to remember, a salient point since this, after all, was a legally binding oath. Viking Age society did not rely on written legal records, and an important means to preserve legal transactions was through remembrance. Therefore, if people used objects laden with meaning, their pronouncements would be easier to recall than abstract legal principles. Hence, the oaths in the eddic poems fit nicely with the observation on Old English law made by Frederic William Maitland: “So long as law is unwritten, it must be dramatised and acted. Justice must assume a picturesque garb, or she will not be seen” (Maitland [vol. II] 1911). Even today in various parts of the world, legal events are often set apart from and above ordinary life through speech, gestures, and objects; swearing on the Bible or on the Quran is common practice, and legal personae may be singled out through dress. For example, in British courtrooms the judge is easily spotted through the wearing of a black cape and a wig. Hence it is relevant to associate law with vocabulary and ideas taken from the stage, and this relationship was pointed out by Johan Huizinga (1938) in a chapter on “Play and Law” in Homo Ludens. Words and gestures are complimentary, and when combined, they have more force than either would have alone. As Terry Gunnell (1995) pointed out, the dialogic poems in the Poetic Edda were not merely chanted but probably performed as dramatic works. Furthermore, Hibbitts (1992:885) stressed that a specific performance culture is shaped by circumstances relating to, for example, religion, politics, and geography. “For the convenience of memory, performative legal rules are expressed not in the abstract, but in stories and tales that evoke ripe for the new religion, and King Hákon tolerated heathens and was even forced to participate in the heathen cult (Riisøy 2013). When Hákon died, Haraldr gráfeldr, the son of Hákon’s brother Eiríkr blóðøx “Bloodaxe”, came to power. King Haraldr controlled the Norwegian coastal areas, and he set out to break down the pagan sanctuaries and destroy the pagan cult places. As Sundqvist pointed out, King Haraldr probably had little success in converting people to Christianity, and when earl Hákon, de facto ruler of Norway from about 970 to 995 came to power, the religious scene changed once more (Sundqvist 2015:130–132). The earl had a hostile attitude towards Christianity, and he even set out to restore the pagan cultic shrines (Sundqvist 2015:130–132). Therefore, I find it unlikely that earl Hákon would condone an oath-formula, which also included Christian elements. King Óláfr Tryggvason (995–1000) ardently opposed the heathen religion, and by the early 11th century the new religion had come to stay. Therefore, I find it highly unlikely that a formula incorporating an explicitly heathen element would have been coined after about A.D. 1000. As Jørn Øyrehagen Sunde pointed out, the Grágás formula made it possible to draw the line between right and wrong in a distinct way and it brought form—order—into the legal process (Øyrehagen Sunde 2007). In other Scandinavian medieval laws, there are remnants of similar, although far less elaborate, formulas that had a central role when the administration of justice still was predominantly oral (Brink 2011:152, Øyrehagen Sunde 2007). The formulas bound together people’s actions with other people and religious concepts—depending upon religious affiliation and the natural world. Breaking the treaty confirmed by oath had consequences: becoming forever—as long as the sun shone and the world was inhabited—the worst kind of an outcast, a vargr. In pre-Christian and early Christian Scandinavian society, a vargr designated an irredeemable outlaw, and a creature, which above all, signifies deceit (Riisøy 2010). Sigrdrifa condemns an oath breaker, and compares him to a vargr, and the Seeress concurred this judgement (Lay of Sigrdrifa, stanza 23 [Larrington 1996:170, Neckel and Kuhn 1983:194], Seeress’s Prophecy, stanza 39 [Larrington 1996:9, Neckel and Kuhn 1983:9]). The various terms in the Grágás formula probably originate at different times; some of the images may have been the stock of trade in pre-Christian oaths. For instance, an oath between the Rus and Greeks in A.D. 945 should last “henceforth and forever, as long as the sun shines and the world stands fixed” (Sherbowitz-Wetzor 1953:74). Stein-Wilkeshuis (2002:167) referred to medieval Frisian law where oaths were sworn on objects supposed to have a magJournal of the North Atlantic A.I. Riisoy 2016 Special Volume 8 151 the concrete images of actors doing right or wrong” (Hibbitts 1992:960). In my opinion, this is precisely the way legal rules are expressed in the eddic poems. Robin Chapman Stacey’s acclaimed book of 2007 focused on legal performance primarily as a form of verbal art in early medieval Irish law, where it was not only meant to record but also to create and to transform (Stacey 2007:2). Therefore, certain words spoken in a specific way could effect changes in legal status, and the act was constituted when the words were spoken (for the general power of the spoken word in Old Norse society, see Raudvere [2005]). This aspect could be particularly germane to the legal sphere in pre-Christian Scandinavia where the term mál means both speech and legal case (Storm and Hertzberg 1895:428–429). Moreover, place names from Scandinavia evidence that mál could also denote a place of assembly (Fabech 2001:198–201, Holmberg 1996). Dark Speech, the opening line of Stacey’s (2007) book reflects the highly stylized, impenetrable and hence also excluding language in early Irish law. Bernard Mees found parallels in early Norse law, exemplified by the term málrúnar, literally “speechrunes” (Mees 2013). In The Lay of Sigrdrifa, the valkyrie Sigrdrifa admonished Sigurd to learn málrúnar and þær um vindr, þær um vefr “wind them about, weave them about …” (stanza 12; Larrington 1996:168, Neckel and Kuhn 1983:192). The context is explicitly legal, because Sigrdrifa also pointed out that málrúnar would be useful at that thing “where people must go to fully constituted courts” (er þióðir scolo í fulla dóma fara) (stanza 12; Larrington 1996:168, Neckel and Kuhn 1983:192). Bernard Mees (2013:2–3) pointed out that málrúnar have also been used in Snorri’s Edda as a definition of dróttkvætt, the most complicated form of Old Norse poetry (Snorri’s Edda, Háttatal; Jónsson 1931:215). Here, málrúnar are described as the principal sort of runes, and therefore argued Mees (2013:2–3), this term is a form of advice, rhetoric, or wisdom that was composed or articulated in a stylized or heightened manner. Furthermore, in an even older Germanic tradition, málrúnar represented the giving of legal counsel. The reference to málrúnar in The Lay of Sigrdrifa indicates that early Northern legal language was alliterative and performative, and when arguments were woven, this may allude to the performance of poetry. This performing of law in a stylized poetic language was for mnemonic purposes and, as Mees underlined, also for tradition. A conservative legal language was considered to be correct, true, and important, and it served as a safeguard against mistakes (Mees 2013:11). The idea that there was some kind of interrelationship between law and poetry in ancient Germanic Society goes back to Jacob Grimm’s (1816) study Von der Poesie im Recht. This line of inquiry is still relevant today. For example, studies show that several Scandinavian inscriptions from the older runic period (2nd to 8th century) had legal functions and were stylized similarly to poetry (Herschend 2009:59–83, Mees 2013). The Forsaring (cf. above) shows alliteration in legal language, and traces of the alliterative prehistoric legal culture in Scandinavia may also be found in the earliest provincial laws (Brink 2011:147–156). Because mere words could effect changes, words were not only effective but also potentially dangerous (Stacey 2007:249). An oath spoken badly or wrongly could have dire and unintended consequences, and an oath taken by one party may not have been what the other party understood it to be. This misunderstanding may have occurred inadvertently because the phrasing was not precise enough, or because the oath taker deliberately swore to something that was technically true but morally dubious. Trickery and deceit is therefore “the darker side of linguistic power” (Stacey 2007:248). An excellent example of an Old Norse “dark” oath is recorded in chapter 25 in Víga-Glúms saga. In Iceland in the latter half of 10th century, Glum swore that he had not killed Thorvald Hook. Glum took “a temple oath on the ring and I deny to the god, that I was not there and did not strike there and did not redden point or edge where Thorvald Hook met his death” (Hreinsson [vol. II] 1997:307– 308). As noted by the editor Vidar Hreinsson, “Glum’s oath depends on the preposition at having the same form as a poetic negative suffix”. Hence, “I was at that place” (ek vark at a þar) and “I was not there” (ek varkat þar) sound identical (Hreinsson [vol. II] 1997:307–308). Glum’s opponents were expecting a denial, and admitted, “they had not heard that form of words used before”, but still: did not find anything wrong with the oath. It was soon pointed out that Glum had in fact admitted to the killings, “in the most usual words” and also that it was disgraceful for Glum’s opponents for not catching this verbal trick (Hreinsson [vol. II] 1997:307–308). Whereas verbal tricks may have been perfectly acceptable, swearing outright falsely was not a viable option. Glum may have known about the advice spelled out by Sigrdrifa where she admonished the dragon-slayer Sigurd not to swear an oath unless it is truly kept because terrible fatebonds attach to the oath-tearer. Summary To conclude, the oaths sworn in the eddic poems were actually used in pre-Christian Scandinavia, not only during the Viking Age but in earlier centuries Journal of the North Atlantic A.I. Riisoy 2016 Special Volume 8 152 too. Thus, when 13th- and 14th-century Icelanders put eddic poems and sagas down on parchment, they did not invent this custom, on the contrary, there is every reason to believe that the memory of how oaths were sworn in pre-Christian times still lingered on. Eddic poetry expresses ethical judgments of people’s actions, and in a society where people believed in heathen gods and in various omens, and where the dividing lines between living and dead matter was occasionally blurred, it made sense to swear on items and gods which were important in that culture. Such procedures helped to ensure that the oaths would not be broken, and hence, minimize the risks of violence and disruption. The eddic poems may also have had a didactic intent aimed at the audience. They stated the cause and effect of the breach of the law, and how to solve the conflict, and in this way helped to regulate and stabilize local society and keep up the central values of this society. Breaking of norms had consequences; for example, an oath-breaker became a vargr. Through the reciting of poems, these norms and the legal procedure were made clear; therefore, people were aware how legal disputes and a breach of the law should be solved. All performance cultures are not absolutely alike. From Volga in the east to Wirral in the west, Viking oaths, which differed from Christian oaths, are recorded. It would appear that Christians took a pragmatic stance, and heathen Viking oaths would have to suffice, regardless of whether they used weapons, holy rings, and other items and even invoked heathen gods. Also the heathens were pragmatic, abroad and at home, and they accepted that Christians swore oaths according to their belief. When Christianity finally gained political ascendency in Scandinavia, oaths sworn on the Bible (i.e., F IV 8, G 37; Eithun et al. 1994:57–59; Keyser and Munch 1846:23, 160–161), or the cross (Grágás; Finsen 1852:46, 72) replaced oaths sworn, for example, on weapons and the natural elements. A similar development seems to have taken place among the other Germanic peoples and Celts and who converted to Christianity centuries before the new religion reached Scandinavia. During the first Christian centuries, the performative aspects of oaths, and in addition all agreements, cases, and transactions that had legal implications, were still important. For example, when land was claimed (Strömbäck 1928:205) or sold (Brink 2011, Gelting 2011, Taranger 1913), and in cases of inheritance of odal-land, recital of ancestors back to the burial mound was imperative (Iversen 2008). 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Antonsen’s (2002:10–12) translation of bidawarijaz as oath-defender. Other early runic inscriptions with a clear legal flavor are discussed in Mees (2013). 2When material remains are used as dating criteria, it is apparent that in a variety of forms some eddic poems were in circulation during the Viking Age and even earlier. Birger Nerman, who had the philological as well as the archaeological expertise, made pioneering studies with this approach, and he placed the material remains in eddic poems in the Viking Age and Migration Period (Nerman 1931). On the whole, the philologist Bjarne Fidjestøl (1999:145–150) assessed Nerman’s methodological approach positively. 3Stefan Brink (2011:154) noted that the receiving of fasta (i.e., holding the shaft of a spear) was conducted when land was sold, divided, given away, or pledged according to the Old Swedish law, the Law of Östergötland, and may be linked to the obscure use of gariethingx, as a kind of donation or gift, in the Lombard Laws. 4In Droplaugarsona saga, ch. 6, Sveinung swore on an altar-ring (Hreinsson [vol. IV] 1997:363), Glum swore an oath on a ring in Víga-Glúms saga (Hreinsson [vol. II] 1997:307–308), and in Eyrbyggja saga (ch. 16) Arnkel took an oath on an altar-ring (Hreinsson [vol. V] 1997:143). 5Green (1998:67–68) suggested that it may have been a common West Germanic vocabulary, and also practice, whereby weapons, war-horses, and rings were given from the ruler or leader to the follower, and Hedeager (2011:12–13) found similar practice mirrored in archaeology and mythology. 6The Second Lay of Gudrun, stanza 43 (Larrington 1996:202, Neckel and Kuhn 1983:231), notes that heads will be cut of the white sacrificial beasts (hvítinga), a term which is obscure (Larrington 1996:289). In ancient Indo-European tradition, symbolic colors were related to various social classes, and the color white belonged to the so-called “first function”, where priests and the sacred belonged (Dumézil 1973:124). Georges Dumézil found that the List of Rig conforms to this color-pattern; where the boy Jarl is blond and bright, the little farmer, baby Karl, was red and rosy, and baby thrall was dark (stanzas 34, 21, 7; Larrington 1996:247–250, Neckel and Kuhn 1983:281–285). 7The element Odin occurs in Old English place names (Dronke 1969:64), and possibly also in German pagan place names. For example, in Hessia the large hill of Gudensberg is attested in 1119 as Guodenesberch, where Gudens is derived from Old High German genitive Wodenes (Clay 2010:297).