Adrian Spendlow; poet in residence for the Jorvik Viking Centre
of York, kneel before you Georg Hanson, I who have travelled
so far at your behest hereby pledge allegiance to you the Chieftain
Imagine if you will that I, the skald of the ancient city of
Jorvik to which I hold much affiliation and a huge debt of honour
tempered with gratitude, have responded to a summons from a
town in a fjord so very far away and have travelled not by modern
means but by a sleek ship that rises above the waters themselves
and skims the waves at great speed and at great risk to arrive
in a deep
chasm of a
valley to an alien culture seeking to represent the powers and influences
that spawned me, only to discover that here in this town of the
Vikings stands a culture so vivid so strong that all else I have
experienced dwindles to memory leaving me in the moment of joining
A welcome so
real comes leaping out of this culture and straight into my heart.
Many peoples have gathered to bring their ways, their views, their
skills together to this town for one reason; they are a part of
the dream made reality of one man, this is why he is chieftain,
not through hereditary or power but from a heartfelt wish born of
deep affection and this is why I kneel now and make such a pledge.
will of course have been an influence and my unique way will
be a matter of thought and discussion among the hearts of others
there for perhaps months to come. That is the way with us all
of course, for we have been drawn in and empowered to bring
our uniqueness to share. I was empowered from the moment back
in February when I was described as The Skald of Jorvik and
my heart rose to be so well thought of,
of any real position I held but through an acknowledgement of my
skills shown in so many crowds and groups over the years: the listener
respecting their own levels of enjoyment. This is what Georg saw
in me when he made that announcement and a crowd drew their chairs
around me in the Merchant Adventurers Hall during the 2010 Jorvik
Viking Festival and lived the moments of my tale.
were still talking of having seen me there when I visited Gudvangen.
So many of you who are part of that culture in the Fjord will
be able to identify with such empowerment because it has happened
to you too.
Nothing prepared me for my visit however, no matter the great
work I have done for such as Dr Chris Tuckley and the dear Jane
Stockdale for the Archaeological Trust in York and the many
great people within the teams there.
nothing like I had experienced before. Things were so very different
and we can all learn so much from each other.
My journey turned out to be a little more complicated than I expected
and involved a trip through the lands to the town of Voss from Bergen.
I said in my introduction for the Viking Rock Festival, "People
of Norway, your country has made me cry!" and so it did,
I was brought to tears by the wonder of this country and expressed
myself in gasps and sighs (as I was journeying alone this brought
undue attention from others travelling the same route).
I can only
be grateful for the many tunnels along the route, forty seven by
my count, for they gave me a respite from the power affecting me.
My Chieftain brought me to my new home to even more wonder from
me; the Gudvangen valley is so very beautiful and has a power of
the earth that reaches right into your heart. I must confess to
being dizzy and unsteady in those first days there from all the
looking up in amazement. The faces in the rocks looked down at me,
not through my imagination but from my core and I reacted as if
Njord himself was indeed looking down at me from his valley by the
Stepping across the narrow suspension bridge from the sight
of the welcoming Gudvangen Fjordtell to the Viking town side
of the fjord I was transported back to a sight of wonder, which
Georg amazingly sees as only the start of the dream, a town
of permanent and nomadic structures filled with representatives
of a living culture.
to this experience of the past was a structure very much of the
present; a state of the art huge stage.
This marvellously designed mobile platform for music imposed upon
us for the first few days and then just as we were wondering at
the brilliant experience it had given us it was gone. I look back
now at the marvellous experience of my fellow nine performers and
think how I have never experienced anything of this sort before.
is an event I would very much like to bring home with me,
and I will be telling at length of my impressions. It was
not just the great bands and quality performers and the great
night that they gave us all but the fact that we in Britain
generally have no idea of this movement of huge bands melding
modern music with ancient sounds and offering rich lyrics
that celebrate a sense of roots.
I shall seek
to change this and raise awareness of a vital happening that is
needed here in the sceptred isles. Two days of sound checking saw
me meeting with band members and talking through the content of
their sets and the philosophy behind their chosen field, from this
I created story-pieces and poems to introduce their acts, not all
of my work made it into the actual night because of pressures of
time in the running of such a huge stage but nonetheless my tailored
introductions complimented the direction of the acts and led to
many contacts and requests for my work for display.
also made many great friends who shared in an honest enthusiastic
way. I have not come across such a great sound crew who made
me feel a part of things throughout. I may not have always pronounced
names of bands correctly but this was accepted by the audience.
I found that throughout my experiences there that even where
I made great efforts to use names correctly my English way of
speaking could not accurately reproduce the way of expressing
of this people.
This was accepted as being part of the rich culture for after
all we of the Viking Town are a multinational mix of strengths
and qualities working together (very often in English) to share
and bring together.
The event kicked
of with the very much alive Skvalthr
who describe themselves as "Primitive acoustic music, not for
the faint hearted," their throat singing, percussion, powerful
instruments and pure joy brought the audience alive and then they
proceeded to actually join the crowd following their great set and
play on from within the crowd.
great gang of friends was the wild and lively storyteller Gustav
Holberg who tours widely and is now in touch with me sharing
links and contacts so both of us can widen our spheres.
Next along was Glittertind
who went down a storm. Now I must admit to never having heard of
Black Metal but what I heard from them was powerful well-constructed
pieces with quality music, resounding vocals and a heartfelt creativity
drawing upon our pasts.
Their animated discussions of how they came to be who they are and
why they live this music prompted me to write a poem to introduce
them. The poem is made largely from their words or sentiments and
I hope represents this great band:
There are members of Glittertind who tell me
That they believe in love
(Especially after the concert!)
So love them now
(and after the concert!)
Hence the barriers
Metal they may be
And black at that
There are no hard edges to belief
Barriers may block us
But no one can stop you
It is for you to know, and to feel
Challenge as they challenge
And travel through time
Blending and sending your own thoughts
Your own way
You are national - ancient
And modern - Be there
As they are
They spiral - through the mystic -
With witches we wind through -
Your own way
As these guys
Pick up the horn of Roland
Yet they dare to blow
In their own way
Their very own way
So we bring - Glittertind
I don't know if they did find that 'love' after the concert but
I do know they will find many places to perform and to great success.
An extra surprise guest at this point was the well known tattooist
and performer from Germany Kai who was invited to fill a sudden
gap in the schedule with stories, jokes and poems. I do not understand
German I am sorry to say but I 'understand' Kai, his performances
are stunning and gripping and I was glad to ask him for more, more,
When eventually Arkona's
costumes and equipment turned up (from Russia) we were at last able
to be stunned by their dramatic powerful set which I introduced
with the following poem:
Take the dark steel by the hilt
The sword that is Black Metal
Thrust it to the sky
And we fly
High and far; hurtling back
To Russian roots
And a magical land of wild myth
Among the peaks; be alive
In strength and beauty
Stand on the battlements with this band
A Slavic city of belief
A castle of sound
Resounding, abounding about
And be here forever
In the citadel
I have shared with you the poems I wrote for that Viking rock night,
but of course not all my intro pieces were poems, some were improvised
stories created on the spot. I did such intros of lengths to fit
the time allowed for Tyr,
Faun and Wardruna.
I will attempt to recreate that introduction for you now.
||From his great stone slab of a
throne Odin looked down upon the nine known worlds and all the
unknown worlds again and he saw there, hidden deep, the poetry
mead which he reclaimed for his own and to share. Once this
power was theirs the gods drew upon all their powers to cast
runes upon the worlds, written on the tongue of Bragi, upon
the paw of the bear, in all impossible and great places and
even on the very face of the sun.
|From the power of these runes was
made another mead, far more powerful than before; the rune-mead.
Thus the gods were able to give portions of this mighty mead
to others of power and respect; some of this rune-mead was sent
drifting down as a godly gift right into the hearts of our next
performers who recreate the magic of that power here with the
blessings and strength of the gods.
Prepare yourselves now for the wisdom and wonder which is -
What a great gang, as were all our performers and
what a great, late, finish!
Look out for Wardruna at events near you. People say to me that
they have heard that Jorvik has a market and they would like to
come. This is not quite so, not quite in the way that they might
see. I saw, as I walked through that market over the forthcoming
days, tent upon tent full of highly skilled crafting, full of unique
new items from old old ways, path upon path of gritty real yet beautiful
people who are undeniably there in the moment of our timeless past.
I say no, we have nothing like this. A market in York is a great
display of wares, presented in enlightening ways by great people
but Gudvangen is a living
event. Staying within the village amidst their own wares and with
their own image of how to live, these people are there for the duration
and never want to leave, and ever wish to return.
York will bring you a chance to choose before you visit and to pre-book
a whole host of events from seminars to children's crafts that offer
such a wide range that you will be breathless by you have fitted
in all that suits you. York will be a city taken over. It is not
a market though, it is a festival with market stalls amongst its
Gudvangen is a Market because
it is, but it does not even begin to describe what was on offer
for me to take in.
|Crowds who are fascinated by what
they might buy and intrigued by the detailed answers to their
questions, a whole host of workshops where you can deepen your
skills on topics from the magic of runes to the ways to create
accurate items, activities from archery to wrestling, presentations
of storytelling, music and dance and a whole host of ceremonies
Now that is a market. Come and stay
||There are many personal highlights
for me and I will tell you of a few of them here, but it is
the people that are its greatest attraction. I met many new
friends and mixed in magical environments. The welcome I received
was totally heart-warming. Georg and all his family there have
become close friends and I have nothing but admiration for all
Thank you to Camilla, Michael, Ina and Georg and
all the other fine friends I have met and will hear from again.
I met many through my performances and several who came back and
back again to listen. The other storytellers and musicians were
a joy to listen to, even those I do not share a language with, and
all of you who were so welcoming, supportive and stimulating I say
A particular highlight was the Saturday night feast where I performed
the following poem.
There are other worlds
Just as we Vikings
Have always said
Cries for help
and voices of lost souls
Call through intangible channels
from other lands
They burst in constant waves
Into the ear of our chieftain
The mobile phone lines of Georg!
And he, with a shine in his eye
Listens to all
To make all of this wonder here
Our ever working
We thank you.
When I had finished the poem I looked around and
Georg was sat on the throne behind me with a big smile and reaching
to shake my hand. I chiefly performed my stories that relate to
the British (or English) experience as they seemed to best compliment
the mix of story there. My Hobb's Tall Tales went down very well
and are a mix of good fun and daft voices with events from folklore,
history and myth.
|I also told homecoming tales where
I consulted a seeress about the meaning of ravens I had seen
arriving upon our land, they were a sign that travellers would
be with us with tales of other lands,
these included warriors from Greece, travellers who had brought
back stories from nations within the new found land (and the
creature they may well have brought back), events and tales
from Jorvik and news of a beast 'discovered' in Sweden.
I also shared my Nordic Cards, my Medieval Moments
and my Rune Cards in quieter moments. I didn't seem to find the
time to do any rune or crystal readings so perhaps they are a thing
for future visits. My casting mat where I create your very own story
is another prop I am packing for my return.
||Of the stories from the mythos
that I did over the trip the tale of Gunnlodd perhaps went down
the best with a few listeners finding it a little too chilling.
One that went down well and caused a lot of jolly discussion
and input was Eight Places To Go When You Die. Although I think
in the end we got it up to eleven places that a Viking might
go to when the call came.
A chance to work with others and meld and mix our
approaches is a real joy that I am very grateful for, one such experience
was the chance to work with gifted singers and musicians, more of
which I will tell a little later. One wonderful highlight of my
time in the magical fjord was a marvellous ceremony that built from
the writing of a poem, a thoughtful approach and a gift of vision
of what is possible. Lucas a Polish sculptor had been commissioned
to create a wonderful statue for the grounds of the Fjordtell, a
statue of Njord himself. He carved him of wood and bid him to stand
upon his ship looking out to sea from the hotel bringing us safe
journeys, a clear route home and a wish to return.
I had a patch of time between performances
and had a wish to continue making a contribution so I sat
and thought on the idea of a poem. I recalled as best I could
without my notes the techniques of skaldic verse;
I went for a two stanza piece with a
lead-line each that is echoed as a similar refrain at the
end of the stanza and four main lines per group which followed
a three / two alliteration and where possible contained kenning.
I took the finished piece to Thor Ewing for I knew
he had a knowledgeable understanding of such style and following
a good read and a few helpful suggestions of improvements proclaimed
it most fitting. From this grew much.
I mentioned the poem to Camilla and that I would write it up neatly
for a possible reading and the next morning I duly went along to
the hotel seeking Olav and his wife Torill. As I walked towards
the open cafe area I was called across by Camilla and she was sat
with the two smiling hotel managers. My writing of a poem, (or more
correctly perhaps Camilla's encouragement), would lead to so much.
I was thrilled to hear that the news that I had been moved to write
had encouraged Turael to turn to poetry and what a wonderful piece
it was. From this she had created a whole ceremony and as I walked
away with a big smile on my face Olav shouted after me, "This
is a tradition, a new tradition, and it will happen every year".
|On the Saturday evening before the market closed
we gathered. Two long wooden poles and had been packed under
the statue and a whole host of very strong Vikings were poised
to lift (it was a very heavy statue). The drummers and pipers
struck up and the Vikings put in great effort and up arose Njord.
With Turael and myself proceeded forward with our grandly dressed
sword boy behind us and the band following. I heard from one
of the strong carriers that the rhythms of the musicians was
all that made it possible for them to maintain the effort of
transporting our Njord, but make it they did in regal style.
We processed through the grounds, across the narrow suspension
bridge, into the Viking Town and through to the centre of the
There our chieftain was bethroned and waiting for
us with his chieftainess beside him. We lowered Njord in front of
him and Georg welcomed him and accepted him with fine greeting.
|I was then signalled to pronounce my poem and
then Tureal clearly and proudly recited hers, the band struck
up again and then she blessed the figure with mead.
Our chieftain offered up his cloak to Njord and added to the
blessing we all then proceeded to share of the generous offering
of mead and to dance around our figure.
Here is my poem:
Njord at Fjordtell
Here stands Njord
Collecting callers calmly; warm welcome
Godly Gudvangen; a happy harbour
Sea-being so splendid - wedded to this water
Luring you cruisers - wooing you to wander
He commands the fjord Here Njord is home
As Skadi his bride is, so will your heart stay
Wherever in this wide world your ship has sailed from
You will fail to forget us and ever wish to return here
Njord Gudvangan's guide will hold you forever
Here you are home
This leaves me to tell you of a wonderful collaboration:
a delightful change of program lead to me being teamed with the
wonderfully talented and most charming couple Harold and Mari Foss.
Georg introduced us and we chatted for a little while and as a result
a delightful and exciting set was developed and went on to be performed
to great success. We performed at both the Saturday event and then
by welcome return during the Sunday events. I had said how I had
been thinking that as there was no music or songs surviving from
the actual Viking period yet much material from just a little later
there was a need for someone with the skills, passion, vision and
talent to create songs that were a fitting contribution to how our
ancestors would have experienced the sensation of relevant song.
I said this would be equivalent to someone digging up bones and
rusty implements and recreating the actual scenario of the period
but in song. "That is what we do" they exclaimed. Indeed
they do, in a delightful performance.
A spellbinding hour putting duos of poems or stories together with
songs saw us have a Celtic feel, a runic session, a battle lament,
a pair of broken hearts, the settling of Greenland, among many others.
The three of us cannot wait to work together again and foresee far
more collaboration around the world.A word of thanks for a friend
of mine back at home, my neighbour and close friend Jackie Etheridge
or should I say Svanhildr Hrólfsdóttir who can trace
her ancestry back to a royal lineage portrayed on the Bayeux Tapestry.
She is an expert on the history of the runes, gives demonstrations
on costume, tales from her ancient family tree as well as being
a busy writer. I would be undressed and unprepared without her!
||I might not have found time to
create this log of my wonderful adventures had it not been for
a bad case of motion sickness, here I am on my third day at
home and am still fairly deaf and finding it difficult to move
around without, well, er, swirly around. Thank you for reading
this, your (temporarily) dizzy friend.
As for those of you reading this who have not experienced
the Viking Town of Gudvangen I have one thing to say, go there!
As a thoughtful postscript:
We do all approach elements of our interest differently and I am
reminded of a chat on the bus back to Bergen. A lovely young guy
was in need of assistance into the bus with all his market stall
items following a fall where he had hurt his hand (sorry I have
forgotten your name my friend) and we got to talking as we viewed
the scenery and headed off for him to return to his shop in the
city. There are traditions to follow and perhaps two main ways.
One can portray what we know in an accurate and stimulating way
so an audience are entertained and enthralled while learning or
reaffirming that which is preserved. I am reminded of the folk ballads
and sea shanties of my own shores. People recreate these as a beautiful
experience so they are not lost or forgotten, yet they cannot help
but change them and so they evolve without any intention. Of course
in our modern world of information anything can be found and studied
with ease so we have a stronger method of preservation than our
predecessors. When it comes to those sea shanties which are there
for a job, with each song having a purpose upon a sailing ship they
are described as traditional rather than credited to a writer or
described as anonymous. I have heard 'traditional' explained to
mean nobody wrote them. So many voices have had a hand in passing
them along that each of them has altered them subtly, often unconsciously,
until what we hear is absolutely different to the first shanty they
came from. The singer though is upholding the tradition of encouraging
the crew, to show them the rhythms, to entice them to greater efforts,
to distract them with jollity, to show them the meaning of the role
that is timeless. I was saying to my friend that I see it in a similar
way with telling traditional tales, beyond the recording of them,
beyond the capturing of them, beyond the passing on of them is the
tradition of the storyteller, the skald. Around two thousand years
of tradition in fact of an exciting new or renowned skald arriving
at your court or farm with a whole new approach that echoes that
which you know but brings you something fresh and exciting, something
to stimulate discussion. There is a tradition to follow and preserve;
an evolving tradition of uniqueness that yet honours that which
we know or believe.
||We went on to discuss the discoveries
one can make in a historic text, the fresh look, the stimulating
questions, the answers to anomalies or spaces and my friend
told me of his poetry he writes as he travels that is on topics
of the mythos (or belief system depending on your view) yet
looks at things from his way and creates poetic words partly
out of innocence and imagination.
As for belief, I strongly believe in belief, but
I do not really care what you actually believe. That is your choice,
your direction to go in, you might find what you hear to be a historical
piece of information, or you might find it to be what you truly
believe you can call upon for spiritual inspiration. That is your
choice not mine, I am not here to tell stories that make you think
like me, merely to make you think. The thing relating to belief
I seek for when telling is that for the moment, just for that moment,
you decide to allow yourself to believe.
|That way I look up into the faces
of children within the faces of those of all ages and I see
joy and innocence and an absolute belief in the moment. Allow
this within yourself and live, allow this within yourself and
imagine, allow this within yourself and step away with a spring
in your step and a whole new approach to life and belief. Well
that's what I believe.
Well, I also want to spread a little happiness.
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