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Pearls of Wisdom

Norse of Course: Viking Style Norse of Course: Viking Style

by Barbara van Look, Marketing Content Development Group, Exclusively for Fire Mountain Gems and Beads®

They're so much more than Hagar the Horrible.

The History Channel's series Vikings--as well as recent jewelry and coin hoards found in England and Scotland--have reignited interest in the styles and traditions of this old culture.

Brides, clothing designers and jewelry makers are seeking inspiration and looking back to the artwork of the Vikings--or Norse--for inspiration in modern creations. "Viking," as the old joke goes, isn't a culture--it's a job description. A Viking was a trader and a raider from one of the Norse cultures living in what is now Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Iceland and their colonies.

Everything at the Thing
Among the Norse, the Thing was a great meeting of all the free men of the community (although women did often have input). They discussed laws, brought suits against each other, negotiated peace between warring tribes or clans and more. The Thing was also a place the Norse showed off to each other: their weapons, their fighting skills, their wealth and generosity--and their children. At the Thing, the Norse could see if they were keeping up with their rivals, flaunting their wealth in brooches, hair pins, sword fittings, horse bridles, treasure necklaces, metal embroidery and more!
Norse of Course: Viking Style
Norse of Course: Viking Style Norse of Course: Viking Style

Norse Style
Norse art had a distinctive style, using zoomorphic (animal) shapes in interwoven patterns, carved and formed on a range of materials such as wood, bone, stone, metal, ivory, textiles and others. Similar to what is commonly thought of as "Celtic knotwork," Norse designs were intertwined multi-layer creations. There is some academic argument whether knotwork patterns are original to the Celtic traditions, a borrowing from the Norse cultures, a mutual creation--or any mix of the above!

The designs could be etched, carved or molded, with some elements (like animal heads) emerging from the flat surface much as gargoyles on the front of a church. Some Norse art used runes--a lettering system--to convey messages within or around the art.
Viking/Celtic Beads and Components
Norse of Course: Viking Style Viking/Celtic Beads and Components

Norse of Course: Viking Style Beads
The Norse loved beads--especially colorful lampworked and millefiori glass, carnelian, amber, jet, and more. Beads are the single most common decorative item found in their graves! Some of the most popular are what we call "bumpy" beads.

These beads--along with pendants, rings and special trinkets--would be formed into "treasure necklaces" that flaunted the wearer's wealth and status. But that wasn't all they were known for.
Norse of Course: Viking Style Lampwork Glass Beads

Jewelry
We know the Norse loved metal--their sagas (epic stories) are filled with kings and lords handing out gold and silver armrings and neckrings to their followers and guests. Their graves have included more everyday metals, too: bronze, pewter and iron.

Two symbols carried power across Norse cultures: Yggdrasil the Tree of Life and Thor's hammer. Yggdrasil was an immense ash tree that grew through the center of the universe. Its highest branches reached into the heavens and its roots were so deep, they lead into other worlds.
Norse of Course: Viking Style
Viking/Celtic Beads and Components

The Norse were fond of amber, pearls, coral and clear quartz crystal. However, their most favored gemstone seems to be garnet--a gem they believed would improve their fighting prowess. In the absence of garnet, Norse designs frequently used translucent enamels to replicate the look of garnets.

They were also famous for "Viking sunstone"--likely a form of clear calcite common in Iceland--which has unusual optical properties. This calcite depolarizes sunlight, even on a cloudy day, and let the Norsemen know exactly where the sun was, sailing their dragon ships across the sea with accuracy.
Gemstone Beads

Honey Bee Beads and Components Brides
The most distinctive visual trait of Norse women's clothing are the large brooches they wear on the front of their clothes. Called "apron dresses," the outfits have a long underdress and a jumper/pinafore overdress, with the over-the-shoulder straps held in place by the brooches.

These brooches were a place Viking women flaunted the wealth and sophistication of their families. Brooches could showcase intricate interwoven animal shapes, lacy openwork cast in bronze, enameled or gem-set domes depending on where and when they were living.

Wheat (for bread to eat) and honey (for mead to drink) were common symbols of wealth, fertility and success in marriage. Wheat, bee or beehive and honey jar charms will bring these powerful icons into a bride's bouquet or wedding jewelry.

The Norse are still having an impact today. Their art, their wedding traditions--even their most famous job title--are still going strong. So whether you're rooting for Minnesota's famous football team, oohing and ahhing over the Staffordshire Hoard or enjoying the Dr. Seuss-like rhyme of Erika Milo's Norse Of Course, the beauties of Viking cultures are still at your fingertips.

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