Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Riding to Valhalla--The Vendel Bridle Reconstruction

My latest project is the reconstruction of a Vendel bridle from grave # 3, boat burial of a male, Sweden circa 700s.  Three horses were also found with the burial. The original bridle mounts were enameled metal.  I attempted to cut and gild and tool leather to simulate the bridle mounts.  

As you can see by the picture of Blessi, the side pieces are a bit too long and the bit is clanking on his teeth.  I took a quick picture while the poor boy was being so good.  He got some dried blueberries as a reward.  The bridle will be adjusted.

If you look closely at the original enamel mounts, you will notice that the bit is composed of entwined serpents and the rein attachment is a serpent's head and the brow band is covered by pairs of entwined serpents, which seems odd for a horse bridle.  I was curious so I did some research.

Here is my speculation.  Please take it for what it is worth--a non-scholar doing 15 minutes of google research. I could only find two references to a Norse entity using a bridle/reins made of serpents.   
In the myth about the death of  Baldur (I highly recommend reading Nancy Brown's Song of the Vikings: Snorri and the Making of Norse Myths to understand this story in its wider context and the contribution of Snorri Sturluson of Iceland since I am only relating the part referring to  reins made of serpents), the Norse gods in their grief stowed so much treasure on Baldur's funeral ship Hringhorni that nobody, not even Odin or Thor, could push the ship into the sea.  

What is believed to be Hyrrokking on
the runestone from Hunnestad Monument
in Sweden.  Uploaded to Wikipedia
by Hedning. 

The immensely strong giantess Hyrrokkin was summoned from Jotunhein to help.  She arrived riding a gigantic wolf controlled by reins made of serpents. ("Troll-woman's horse" is a kenning or poetic reference frequently used by the Norse to mean "wolf.")  She pushed the ship into the sea causing the earth to quake.   Thor wanted to kill Hyrrokkin but the other gods otherwise persuade him.

You can read the full myth on Nancy's blog God of Wednesday.

God of Wednesday: Seven Norse Myths We Wouldn’t Have Without Snorri: Part VII

In the poem about Helgi Hiorvardson, Hedin is traveling at Yule time and meets a troll-wife riding a wolf with serpent reins who demands that Hedin "attend" her.  Hedin refuses so she curses him.  

So considering the relationship of Hyrrokkin riding a wolf to Baldur's funeral and launching the funeral ship, I am wondering if a craftsman made the bridle mounts specifically as grave goods.  Such a bridle would be perfect for the warrior to ride to the feasting halls after sailing to Valhalla. 

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