Friday, 21 March 2014
Viking Exhibition: Swords, Ships, Silver and Sorcery
The description by the two iron staffs (pictured above) explained that the defining characteristic of a volva or Viking sorceress was her staff. The basket shape at the top is similar to a distaff, or spindle on which wool is spun, and it is thought that the volva may have used her staff to help her in shamanic journeys to other worlds.
Many people who have experienced astral travel have felt or seen a thin silver thread connecting them to their physical body that allowed them to safely return from their out-of-body journey to the world of the living.
Another display (above right) showed the grave goods belonging to a woman who was probably a volva. These included amulets, hallucinogenic henbane seeds, white facepaint and her staff. The exhibition also explained that women had considerably more equality with men in Viking society than in other cultures of the era. They were particularly valued for their skills in magic.
The photo to the left shows an amulet depicting the Norse god Odin and his two ravens - Hugin (thought) and Munin (memory) The ring at the top is formed by the two ravens beak to beak. It was one of a small display of religious items, including figurines of unidentified gods that were honoured by the pagan Vikings.
Of course, if you are more into swords, ships and silver than magical and spiritual finds, there is plenty to feast your eyes on. You can see a selection of swords in the photo to the right. The remains of the longship takes up the length of the final room at the exhibition - but I have to say I was slightly disappointed. Most of it is represented by a wire frame because all but the bottom of the wooden boat had rotted away in the ground over the centuries. I guess that isn't too surprising, but I'd been expecting a bit more.
The other thing that disappointed me was the fact that the exhibition was so packed with huge crowds that you had to queue for ages before each display case, often just to get a brief glimpse of what was inside over the shoulders of other people.
At the end, I asked the attendant at the door when was the best time to view it without too many people there. She said that apart from becoming a member of the British Museum and getting an invite to a private show, it was best to come on a Friday evening, when it is open late until 8.30pm.
So if you haven't got anything planned for this evening and are in London, see if you can get a ticket for Vikings: Life and Legend and hopefully enjoy it without the crush.
The exhibition Vikings: Life and Legend is on until 22 June at the British Museum, Great Russell Street, London, WC1B 3DG. It is normally open daily from 10am to 5.30pm, with the last entry at 4.10pm, but is open late on on Fridays until 8.30pm with the last entry at 7.10pm.
Full details about the event can be found at http://www.britishmuseum.org/whats_on/exhibitions/vikings.aspx
There is also a book out that you can order in hardback or paperback called Vikings: Life and Legend.