Home The Casket - A Warrior's Life?

 The automatic translation is necessarily imprecise. This translation does not replace the reading of German or English original texts.

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Or: ... a real success story!

Let us imagine our hero, he is an Anglo-Saxon thane (a king's retainer) at the royal court of Northumbria sometime between 650 and 700 AD. King at that time was either Ecgfrid (d. 685) or (less likely) the pious and learned Aldfrid. In this box our warrior hoarded his treasure, golden rings and bands and bracelets, jewellery he had received from his lord, mostly loot, which he passes on - in fragments, may be - to his own retainers, landowning farmers. This is feohgift, a gift not only for the keep of this or that follower but also to honour him in front of his comrade-in-arms in the hall.

Our hero believes that the power of pictures, words, runes, and numbers can determine fortune or fate. He believes in Germanic gods, Woden and Tiw (Old Norse Odin and Tyr) among others, in Valkyries and the way of wyrd (the Norns). It is the period of syncretism, of knowing the new Christian religion and still clinging to the old pagan creed, a creed that was by its nature open to new ideas, which meant new means. King Edwin had, put under his wife's tender pressure, ordered every thane to be baptized along with him at York. So it is very likely that our hero was baptized; may be even his carver, an educated artist, was a Christian, torn between church and temple.

Thus our erilaz, our rune master developed a programme, a sequence of pictures which - like emblems - meant to conjure his client's walk of life. It all starts with a noble birth into as respectable family (Magi picture), followed by the wish for proper and helpful partnership. A hero needs the help of that guiding spirit, the being that he faces only at his life's end, his faithful valkyrianpartner (Wayland picture). At the same time these two topics on the F- Panel (magi and smith) procure wealth: OE.feoh, just what the f-rune, f-Rune, means (money these days) and rich gift, OE gifu, precisely what the g-rune, g-Rune says. It is surprising how well that rune master knew to match the wish for wealth with that for birth and partnership! Moreover, he managed to stress those wishes by his choice of alliterating runes, f, f-Rune and g, g-Rune in stave rhyme verses, which seem not to be related to that topic. These verses, indeed, make the two so contrary scenes match. However, there is much more to it!

With the lucky start, that way determined, our hero has got to follow his lord's call to arms, mount his horse and ride the highway. With oþlæ unneg, 'un-near home', the text is commenting on the picture of the Romantwins (R-Panel). The divine twins, sons of Mars, were regarded to be helpers at travel, just like some other pairs of twins (e.g. Castor and Pollux). However, the rune master chose the Roman pair as their names begin with R. r-Rune, OE rad, NE ride, stands for the journey, the expedition on horseback. It is simply consequent that the warriors in the holy grove ask for their help. And this assistance is procured likewise for the owner of the casket.

Moving from victory to victory the Roman general Titus eventually became a famous emperor. The T-Panel shows his victory over the Jerusalem and the general's final judgement on the Jews. Victory and fair judgement are the attributes that mark the highest peak, power and glory, in a warrior's life. What else should erilaz want for his client? There may have been other successful commanders in history, but few - if any of them - had a name with the initialT. And the rune t-Rune means just this, victory and justice. After all, it is identical with the highest god, the god of war, before Woden graced the scene.

If wyrd decrees his end, he wants to depart this life in battle, chosen by his Valkyrie. That is what the H-Panel shows. The first of the three section depicts that being as a grim monster bringing death about, then as a fair maiden coming to raise him from the dead in order to take him to Valhalla. Again the alliterating runes reflect this wish. Initial doom is expressed with the h-rune h-Rune (OE hagal, 'hail shower') and final salvation with the s-rune s-Rune( sigel 'sun, light, life'). Defeat turns into final triumph.

If the programme comes to its end with the lid, it must refer to Valhalla, the pagan paradise for slain heroes. The carver tries to help his client to an afterlife of the kind this archer from an unrecorded tale enjoys.

The programme constitutes of six pictures taken from saga and mythology. They are chosen to guide a warrior's fortune, supported - as remains to be seen - by runes, numbers and values. If any of the charm has survived, it is the astounding knowledge and the outstanding skill of erilaz, the rune master.

 

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