Despite my current state of health (we’ll try hard to ignore it, maybe it will disappear during the trip) I am determined to get started on this voyage to the past. As I have mentioned previously, our departing place will be at the Lindholm Høje near Aalborg Denmark. This site was chosen for it’s somewhat close proximity to Kattegat and the family we will be following, and for it’s concentration of Viking burial mounds. No, it is not the normal type of Standing Stones that one usually thinks of in terms of traveling through the Stones. My mentor and sponsor for this trip, Mrs. Graham of Crag na dun Time Tours, assures me though that this site has a power and energy of it’s own due to the many early souls buried here. She and her associates have been testing it for some time and report that it’s energy is unique and filled with so many spiritual connections that one should be in awe of it, rather than looking at it and only seeing a bunch of old stones strung about in half hazard fashion. If you focus and concentrate on it’s deeper meanings, it’s history and think of those who were set a sail from this place in their Stone Ships to make their journey to that other shore and other life, you will feel the vibrations and the energy they’ve left on their path.
Our journey begins with the trip to Aalborg Denmark. Aalborg (or Ålborg) is an industrial and university city in the North of Jutland, Denmark. As of 1 January 2014, it has a population of 130,853 (including Nørresundby), making it the fourth most populous city in Denmark. With a population of 205,809 (1 January 2014), the Municipality of Aalborg is the third most populous in the country after Copenhagen and Aarhus. By road Aalborg is 64 kilometres (40 mi) southwest of Frederikshavn, and 118 kilometres (73 mi) north of Aarhus.
If you look at the map, you will see it’s proximity to Kattegat.
The area around the narrowest point on the Limfjord attracted settlements as far back as the Iron Age leading to a thriving Viking community until around the year 1000 in what has now become Aalborg. In the Middle Ages, royal trading privileges, a natural harbour and a thriving herring fishing industry contributed to the town’s growth. Despite the difficulties it experienced over the centuries, the city began to prosper once again towards the end of the 19th century when a bridge was built over Limfjord and the railway arrived. Aalborg’s initial growth relied on heavy industry but its current development focuses on culture and education.
Aalborg traces its history back over a thousand years. It was originally settled as a trading post because of its position on the Limfjord. The sites of what were two settlements and a burial ground can be seen on Lindholm Høje, a hill overlooking the city. These large settlements, one from the 6th-century Germanic Iron Age, the other from the Viking Age in the 9th to 11th centuries, evolved at the narrowest point on Limfjord as a result of the traffic between Himmerland to the south and Vendsyssel to the north.
The first mention of Aalborg under its original name Alabu or Alabur is found on coins from c. 1040, the period when King Harthacnut (Hardeknud) settled in the area. In c. 1075, Adam of Bremen reported that Alaburg, as he called it in German, was an important harbour for ships sailing to Norway. In Valdemar’s Danish Census Book from 1231 it was called Aleburgh, possibly meaning “the fort by the stream” as in Old Norse all meant a stream or current and bur or burgh a fort or a castle. The Church of Our Lady in Aalborg was originally built in the early 12th century but was demolished during the Reformation. Grey Friar Convent, on the east side of Østerå, was probably built around 1240; it was documented in 1268 when it was a Franciscan Convent of the Order of Friars Minor, but like many other Roman Catholic monasteries and convents was shut down in 1530 as a result of the Reformation.
In order to better understand it’s long history and it’s early importance, we need to know a little more about that history? Himmerland is a peninsula in northeastern Jutland, Denmark. It is delimited to the north and the west by the Limfjord, to the east by the Kattegat, and to the south by the Mariager Fjord. The largest city is Aalborg; smaller towns include Hobro, Aars, Løgstør, Støvring and Nibe. In northeastern Himmerland is the Lille Vildmose, Denmark’s largest high bog, which sustains a rich bird life of international importance. It is generally assumed that the name Himmerland is derived from the tribe of the Cimbri since, in the Geography of Ptolemy (2nd century AD), the Kimbroi (in Greek Κίμβροι) are located in the northernmost part of the peninsula of Jutland, called Kimbrikē chersonēsos in Greek (Κιμβρική Χερσόνησος). The Latin c and Greek k attest an earlier stage of Germanic in which the Germanic sound shift was not yet completed (*k > *χ > h), or it has been assumed the Latin form may be derived through Celtic which substituted ch for h (Germanic *himbr-, Celtic *chimbr-, Latin cimbr-).
The Cimbri were an ancient people, either Germanic or Celtic who, together with the Teutones and the Ambrones, fought the Roman Republic between 113 and 101 BC. The Cimbri were initially successful, particularly at the Battle of Arausio, in which a large Roman army was routed, after which they raided large areas in Gaul and Hispania. In 101 BC, during an attempted invasion of Italy, the Cimbri were decisively defeated by Gaius Marius, and their king, Boiorix, was killed. Some of the surviving captives are reported to have been among the rebelling Gladiators in the Third Servile War.
This history shows that Aalborg and the surrounding area were being settled long before the Viking age but we are most interested in that Viking era so will only focus on that aspect. Our specific focus is of course, Lindolm Hoje.
The southern (lower) part of Lindholm Høje dates to 1000 – 1050 AD, the Viking Age, while the northern (higher) part is significantly earlier, dating back to the 5th century AD in the Nordic Iron Age. An unknown number of rocks has been removed from the site over the centuries, many, for example, being broken up in the 19th century for use in road constructions. The Viking Age part of the burial ground has suffered more from this than the older parts. The first major archaeological excavation, which ultimately included 589 of the approximately 700 graves, began in 1952, although excavations had been conducted as early as 1889.
Remains of villages has been found. The settlement is at an important crossing over the Limfjord, a stretch of water which divides what is now Jutland. During the Viking Age, it was only possible to make the crossing at this point or much further west along the fjord at Aggersund, because of the swamps which then edged the fjord on either side.
The settlement was abandoned in approximately 1200 AD, probably due to sand drifting from the western coast, which was a consequence of extensive deforestation and the exposed sand then being blown inland by the rough westerly winds. The sand which covered the site served to protect it in large part over the intervening centuries.
Because of its location and transportation links, the settlement was obviously a significant centre for trade at the time, and this is borne out by glassware, gems and Arab coins found at the site. An 11th-century silver Urnes style brooch found in one grave is the model for bronze copies that were being cast in a Lund jeweler’s workshop in the early 12th century.
The majority of the burials discovered were cremations, although a number of inhumations were also discovered, and it appeared that the tendency towards cremation or burial depended upon the period, cremation supplanting inhumation in the Viking Age. The pre-Viking Age burials were under mounds. Of the later graves, some women’s graves appear to be distinguished by placement of rocks in a circle or oval, but most of the graves are marked with rocks either in a triangle or in the traditional shape of a boat (stone ship), indicating the importance that the Vikings placed upon water. The ship settings constitute the largest assemblage of well preserved examples extant. The shape and size of the grave outline apparently indicate the status of the person – all of which is reminiscent of the ship burials of the Anglo-Saxons, Norwegian and Swedish Vikings and other ancient Germanic societies.
A museum adjacent to the site donated by Aalborg Portland A/S cement company to commemorate their centennial was opened in 1992. In 2008 the museum was enlarged, and a new exhibition of pre-history in the area of the Limfjord opened.
I find the history of this place fascinating and wonder what it might have looked like in that ancient time when so many Vikings would have been using it as a sacred burial site. There evidence that it was used as a burial site long before the Viking era, with mound graves dating back to before the 5th century. The majority of the Stone Ship Viking graves date from about 1000 AD and later. I was concerned about this time frame and voiced it to Mrs. Graham, as our planned trip calls for us to go back a bit further but not so far back as the early grave sites. Mrs. Graham and her researchers assure me that this site was known about and used during the intervening times but so much damage has been done to the entire site due to weather, erosion and deforestation, it’s difficult to asses all of the grave sites. There was also a period of time when large portions of the Ship Stones were removed by those who were unaware of their importance… for example during the 1800s Stones were broken up and removed to be used in various road projects!
Standing out there on this hill, it’s easy to forget the present and see those souls from the past?
And, this is where our journey begins! Through those Stone Ships to find the ghosts of the past and tell their story for them!
Their ships have long ago set sail for that distant shore of Valhalla and Freyja‘s field Fólkvangr. All that remains of them and their life here are vague and unclear images, memories and legends that have become muddled and clouded with time.
We will search for the truths, the myths, the mysteries of their lives and ensure that they are not forgotten in the mists of time!
In Norse mythology, Fólkvangr (Old Norse “field of the host” or “people-field” or “army-field”) is a meadow or field ruled over by the goddess Freyja where half of those that die in combat go upon death, while the other half go to the god Odin in Valhalla. Fólkvangr is attested in the Poetic Edda, compiled in the 13th century from earlier traditional sources, and the Prose Edda, written in the 13th century by Snorri Sturluson. According to the Prose Edda, within Fólkvangr is Freyja’s hall Sessrúmnir. Scholarly theories have been proposed about the implications of the location.
In Egils saga, when Egill Skallagrímsson refuses to eat, his daughter Þorgerðr (here anglicized as “Thorgerd”) says she will go without food and thus starve to death, and in doing so will meet the goddess Freyja:
- Thorgerd replied in a loud voice, ‘I have had no evening meal, nor will I do so until I join Freyja. I know no better course of action than my father’s. I do not want to live after my father and brother are dead.’
Britt-Mari Näsström says that “as a receiver of the dead her [Freyja’s] abode is also open for women who have suffered a noble death.” Näsström cites the above passage from Egils saga as an example, and points to a potential additional connection in the saga Hervarar saga ok Heiðreks, where the queen hangs herself in the dísarsalr (Old Norse “the Hall of the Dís“) after discovering that her husband has betrayed both her father and brother. Näsström comments that “this Dís could hardly be anyone but Freyja herself, the natural leader of the collective female deities called dísir, and the place of the queen’s suicide seems thus to be connected with Freyja.
John Lindow says that if the Fólk- element of Fólkvangr is to be understood as “army”, then Fólkvangr appears as an alternative to Valhalla. Lindow adds that, like Odin, Freyja has an association with warriors in that she presides over the eternal combat of Hjaðningavíg.
Rudolf Simek theorizes that the name Fólkvangr is “surely not much older than Grímnismál itself”, and adds that the Gylfaginning description keeps close to the Grímnismál description, yet that the Gylfaginning descriptions adds that Sessrúmnir is located within Fólkvangr. According to Hilda Ellis Davidson, Valhalla “is well known because it plays so large a part in images of warfare and death,” yet the significance of other halls in Norse mythology such as Ýdalir, where the god Ullr dwells, and Freyja’s Fólkvangr have been lost.
Britt-Mari Näsström places emphasis on that Gylfaginning relates that “whenever she rides into battle she takes half of the slain,” and interprets Fólkvangr as “the field of the Warriors.” Näsström comments that:
Freyja receives the slain heroes of the battlefield quite respectfully as Óðinn does. Her house is called Sessrumnir, ‘filled with many seats’, and it probably fills the same function as Valhöll, ‘the hall of the slain’, where the warriors eat and drink beer after the fighting. Still, we must ask why there are two heroic paradises in the Old Norse View of afterlife. It might possibly be a consequence of different forms of initiation of warriors, where one part seemed to have belonged to Óðinn and the other to Freyja. These examples indicate that Freyja was a war-goddess, and she even appears as a valkyrie, literally ‘the one who chooses the slain’.
Siegfried Andres Dobat comments that “in her mythological role as the chooser of half the fallen warriors for her death realm Fólkvangr, the goddess Freyja, however, emerges as the mythological role model for the Valkyrjar and the dísir.
Whether our legendary ghosts of the past now reside with Odin in Valhalla or with Freyja in Fólkvangr is most likely up to Odin and Freyja, and whether they died noble and honorable deaths… that last part remains to be seen for some that we will encounter on our journey!