Scandinavian Religious Leadership During The Viking Age

Unlike our European societies after christianisation, whose religious leadership is held by the church, in the scandinavian societies things were different and religion was no less important to them as it was for the early christians. Religious ceremonies and its administration was performed by the local leaders of the communities.  For instance, a Jarl* of a farmstead took on the duties of administration, not only in the Thing*, but also conducting ceremonies related religion, the seasons and harvest times, new births, accessions, deaths, and so on.

The Jarls were of course very powerful and had a very active contribution in their communities. But not only Jarls had the power to conduct ceremonies and such. There were the Hersar (sing. Hersir). The “landed men”; local chieftains with family lands and many tenants and dependants, who preside over their district Thing. Of course the Hersar were more busy in increasing their wealth, and often led raids.

Women also had a very important and active role when it came to religious administration and other related actions. Many performed acts such as telling the future, healing the sick, and worked as the shaman/seeress of the local community. Women were seen as the keepers of the magic arts and able to communicate with divinities and otherworld spirits. Of course not all women were wielders of magic, but magic was their domain. Obviously there were men practicing the magic arts, but they were too few and were seen as effeminate for their unmanly behavior.

*Jarl – Powerful regional magnates. The highest men in the land under the king. Some Jarls were as powerful and wealthier as their kings, and had bands of warriors which rivaled the size of the kings’ own armies. Many led raids to increase their status and wealth.

*Thing – and assembly where laws were discussed.

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