Vikings and Valkyries – these two words can conjure up a lot of images, especially today with the popularity of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. But the real Vikings and Valkyries (real Valkyries?) were much more interesting, and although the Vikings we are referencing here were alive more than one thousand years ago. Even so, we’re still learning about how they lived, worked, and fought. In 1878, in the Viking village of Birka, the bones of a Viking warrior were discovered. The figure was determined to be a warrior based on what had also been buried with the figure:
an axe blade, two spearheads, a two-edged sword, a clutch of arrows, their shafts embellished with silver thread, a long sax-knife in a bronze-ringed sheath, iron bosses for two round shields, a short-bladed knife, a whetstone, a set of game pieces (bundled in the lap), a large bronze bowl (much repaired), a comb, a snip of a silver coin, three traders’ weights, two stirrups, two bridles’ bits, and spikes to ride a horse on the ice, along with the bones of two horses, a stallion and a mare.
Estonian folklore revolves around women, and while its pagan culture was warlike, women were not excluded from that facet of life.…The Estonian language … like all Finnic languages, … uses only one personal pronoun—no she, he, or it, just tema.…Estonian women and men wore identical jewelry—unlike in neighboring lands, where men, though gaudily bedecked, had their own jewelry styles. Likewise, weapons are found in up to 30 percent of female graves in tenth-century Estonia, along with nongendered objects like tools, implying that women had equal access to power.In Estonian society, power was corporate. It resided, not in one individual, but in a council. The power of a single council member was limited—even if that councilor was the king or war leader. A charismatic war leader from a strong clan could persuade and encourage, but the decision to go to war rested with the council.Nor could the council be co-opted by the men. Property, in Estonian society, was also collective; clan-based, it was passed down through the female line. According to a law recorded in the thirteenth century, when a man marries “he shall then let all his goods follow his woman. If he wishes to leave her, he will lose arable land and goods.” A man joined his wife’s family, which made daughters as valuable as sons—or more valuable. In folklore, the mother of an only son is derided as nearly childless. To raise her status, she must bear a daughter.This clan-based society where power was shared and women were esteemed was confusing to the Christians like Snorri Sturluson and Saxo Grammaticus who wrote about it in the thirteenth century. The church disapproved of—and had worked hard to eradicate—such societies for hundreds of years. Man was meant to rule woman, Christianity taught. A single God-anointed king was meant to rule society.