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The Hįrbaršr / Hrafn Casket

Over the summer of 2015 I challenged myself by creating the Wayland Kista, a six plank Viking style chest carved with scenes from the story of Wayland or Völundr as the Old Norse stories call him.

For a long time, I have also hankered for a smaller chest or casket with a Norse style plate lock and this is to be one of my projects over the summer of 2019.

The Hedeby Sea Chest Archealogical Drawing

My starting point is going to be the so called “Hedeby Sea Chest” a nice box found in a position which must have been the bottom of the harbour. It’s lock plate had been forcibly broken and it was found weighted down with a stone.

This box had an intriguing story of it’s own even before I started to work on it.

Hedeby style sea chest - Image copyrighted © Gary Waidson. All rights reserved.

Personally I’m not so sure that it was actually a sailors sea chest, I might be wrong but it seems too small for the job and lacks the bottom clearance that I would want for a chest sitting on a deck periodically swamped with water.

Never the less, for my purposes it is ideal.

I started constructing the case in 2016 from solid oak planks and a good friend sourced a half trunk of maple for carving the lid. I purchased the hinges in 2018 and  at the Jorvik Festival in 2019 I found a suitable plate lock.

Viking Plate Lock - Original, theoretical and reconstruction

In a place called Mastermyr a chest full of Viking Age tools was found in a bog. It is unknown whether  it was deposited there deliberately or by accident but it is a fantastic resource for living historians because it shows us what kinds of tools were available.

It also gives us another chest to compare and there was a plate lock on the chest in good enough condition to work out how it functioned.

At the top of the picture above you can see the remnants of the lock as it was found, below that is an illustration of how it would have functioned and at the bottom is the flip side of the one I have fitted to my casket. As you can see, although it has been simplified slightly, It functions in much the same way.

At last I had all the pieces in hand to make a start.

Hedeby style sea chest open - Image copyrighted © Gary Waidson. All rights reserved.

Carving the lid was more challenging than I expected, it turns out that maple is actually a bit harder than oak which I did not know when I started.

Nobody knows for certain why curved lids like this evolved but the design continued to be used for centuries with later examples being coopered rather than carved out.

I temporarily fixed the fittings with short wood screws to check their positions and work out the areas free for carving and now just had to decide on a theme...

Hedeby style sea chest - Image copyrighted © Gary Waidson. All rights reserved.

The ancient story of Wayland had been an obvious choice for my kista because of the nickname I have been known by for so many years, the next most obvious choice was to follow the connection of the logo I have used in my business for almost as many years.

The one eyed mask you see at the top of this page is a simplified depiction of Óšinn based loosely on a carved face found in the Oseberg ship burial.

It is fair to say that all those years ago when I created that Óšinn logo which I still use today, I did not know as much about the mythology as I know now.

Óšinn was originally a sort of psychopomp, mainly responsible for guiding the dead to the afterlife. His promotion in the latter Viking Age to some kind of “Father of all the Gods” seems to have been rooted in the turbulent religious politics of the time. The followers of his cult were usually the rich and powerful and he was certainly never a trustworthy god.

He was known under many names as he often travelled around the Norse worlds inciting trouble and strife. Hįrbaršr ( Old Norse for “Grey Beard” ) is one of those aliases that he used when he apparently met and abused the more popular god Žórr in disguise. Although it is never clearly stated that it is indeed Óšinn, Hįrbaršr is also given as one of his names elsewhere.

I decided the logo itself might not be quite what I had in mind for the casket but there are a number of other creatures associated with him. His ravens, Huginn and Muninn, His wolves, Geri and Freki and of course his mysterious eight legged horse, Sleipnir.    I decided they might well suit this project.

Time to work out the details of the design now...

Hįrbaršr Casket -  Carving Design - Image copyrighted © Gary Waidson. All rights reserved.

After a few days experimenting with different layouts and designs, most of which seemed too crowded, I decided to keep things simple.

Two Ravens, Huginn and Muninn perhaps, one on each end which leaves the face and the back for maybe a little more line work similar to the Hedeby example.

The design is a hybrid between a coin found in York and a clothing hooks found in Timerevo, Gniezdowo  and Birka. I’m happy with the scale and positioning as shown in the picture above now I have to remove the temporary screws holding the box together ( It will eventually be constructed with wooden pegs ) , transfer the design to the wood and then I get to work on the carving.

 

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Lore-and-Saga Living history services and resources for schools, museums and heritage sites. Viking and Roman in school sessions and craft demonstrations. teachers notes and worksheets. Vikings, Saxons, Romans, national curriculum, invaders and settlers, key stage 2, history, teachers information, living history interpreter, in school sessions, storytelling, Roman resources, educational presentations, Viking lore, runes, Roman lore, Viking saga, living history interpretation, Viking resources, Odin, Viking crafts demonstrations, Roman cookery display, Viking silverwork, Roman games, chronology, Viking games, Roman school visits, Viking runes, national curriculum history key stage two, Viking school visits
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