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03 June 2007

The Life and Times of Aud the Deep-Minded


The Life and Times of Aud the Deep-Minded

Aud the Deep-Minded, daughter of a Norwegian Viking who ruled in the Hebrides in the mid-9th century, married a widower Viking king of Dublin and had a son by him. When this son died years later, she took the king’s other son and daughters from his previous marriage into her own household and moved lock stock and longboat to Iceland.

This was not unusual in the Viking era for a number of reasons. First, even if they had no husband, women of high status had considerable autonomy and were treated well. Second, high-status women (some of them) traveled and explored right along with their men, so traveling to Iceland and relocating there would not have been unusual. Third, Aud the Deep-Minded worshipped Odin and Freya, not Mary and Jesus; thus she was not bound by strictures imposed by the Christian church. She could go where she wished and pretty much do what she wanted when she got there.

What Did She Wear to the Feast?

Ninth century Viking garments were similar for both rich and poor; what distinguished them would be the quality of the cloth (wool, linen, silk). Common women wore garments of woven wool or flax; rich women wore garments woven in intricate patterns, dyed with vibrant, warm colors derived from plants, often with decorative braid strips or edging. The fabric itself was
often intertwined with gold or silver thread for high-status women, and finished off with twisted silver wire buttons.

Aud wore a long-sleeved, ankle-length underdress over a “pinafore” dress fastened above the breast with a brooch of amber, carnelian, jet, even amethyst and finished off with a twisted gold neck ring and a cloak, fastened at the throat by another brooch. Her shoes, like men’s, were slip-on leather, laced up to the ankle or strapped across the instep. And she might add a square silk cap or scarf over her head.

Where Did She Live?

While common people lived in farmsteads or village communities in small wooden/sod houses with a rectangular hearth in the center for both warmth and cooking, Aud, however, would live in a “long house” or “hall house,” also constructed of wood. Sitting and sleeping benches spread along the walls, and in some houses separate rooms accommodated guests. The head-of-household sat in a carved high-back chair, and in addition she would have chests full of clothing and various belongings.

Gravesites contain pottery jars, buckets, bowls, wooden kitchen implements, pins, needles, spindles, and ceramic loom weights, bone ice skates, bone and antler combs, even a whalebone “smoothing” board carved from a single shoulder blade. She also would own walrus ivory boxes, leather shoes (cowhide tanned with dog dung, bird droppings, and urine), drinking horns, and amulets (a metal “Thor’s hammer” was a favorite).

What Did She Do for Fun?

Aud attended feasts to celebrate victory in battle, participated in ceremonies honoring Freya, goddess of love and sex, attended market fairs to see the latest goods from Arab, the Byzantine, even Charlemagne’s Carolingian traders. And she went a-viking with the men in their longboats when she had a mind to.

Erecting a “rune stone” would be a great pleasure for a woman. By the 2nd century a distinctive alphabet had been invented in Denmark, remaining in use throughout the Viking Age. The very act of commissioning such a stone indicated wealth and standing. A woman would proclaim her status as an individual land holder and her legal right to her inheritance. Such stones are found
throughout Britain, Ireland, and the Scandinavian countries.

The epic poem Beowulf , an oral composition dating from the 7th century and written down in the 11th century, describes feasts in the long house (Hrothgar’s Hall) and the woman’s role as hostess, as well as drinking contests and tales told after supper about battling other-worldly gods, giants, dwarves, trolls, and monsters. Pagan life in Iceland is described by Snorri Sturluson in his 12th century Sagas. The Volsunga Saga of the 11th century is the Old Norse tale of Siegfried and Brunnhilde, which was later used by Wagner in his opera series, “Ring of the Nibelung.”

How Was She Buried?

Viking warriors believed Valkyrie maidens would bear them away to Valhalla, palace of the gods, to attend Odin, chief of the gods. [They also believed in the underworld, which they called Hel.] Often a warrior would be laid out on a pyre constructed on a ship, which was then set afire and sent off to sea. Or they might be buried in the earth along with all his earthly riches.

Viking women of high status were laid out on a much smaller “burial ship” and then lowered into a pit and covered with earth in a “boat grave.” Jewelry and treasured objects such as metal kitchen utensils were buried with her.

7 Comments:

Blogger Kathrynn Dennis said...

Very interesting, Lynna. Is the image a computer generated reconstruction of a viking woman's gravesite?

9:05 PM  
Blogger Keira Soleore said...

Lynna, what a great post! Did you see the 2006 Beowulf and Grendel movie?

4:19 AM  
Blogger Kalen Hughes said...

Very cool. Are you working on a Viking romance? I'd love to see one of this done well (and I KNOW you'd do a great job!).

9:06 AM  
Blogger Lynna Banning said...

Kathrynn, the image is scanned from a book--The World of the Vikings, by Richard Hall (which I intended to credit as a main source but forgot).

Keira--Yes, I saw that movie. What I liked best was the setting (Iceland, I think), the costumes, the view inside the "long house."

Kalen--No, I'm not working on a book set in the Viking era. Can't get my mind around a viable plot, but I am enjoying others' works, in particular Helen Kirkman's novels. Helen lives in New Zealand, writes for Harlequin.

9:29 AM  
Blogger Keira Soleore said...

Lynna, yes, I loved the gorgeous scenery of Iceland. I've been wanting to visit there for a long time and that movie just made that need acute.

12:35 PM  
Blogger Kalen Hughes said...

Ok, I seem to be on a Buffy theme today. Do you think "Aud the Deep-Minded" is where Joss Whedon got Aud (who becomes Anya)?

2:48 PM  
Blogger Lynna Banning said...

Kalen... I wouldn't think Buffy writers would be aware of Aud the Deep-Minded. But it's apparently a pretty zany crew, so who knows...

10:41 AM  

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