The second edition of the Birka Historical Tattoo Fest on the island of Björkö in Sweden has met with rave reviews. 

The event, which attracted 35 leading tattoo artists from all over the world, took place on June 6-9, 2024, at the Birka Viking Museum, which presents the history of Sweden's oldest city. 

The artists showcased historical, Nordic, Celtic, Baltic, prehistoric, and ornamental tattoos created using a variety of ancient methods, including hand poke and hand tapping, as well as tattoos made with modern electric equipment and solar branding. 

To learn more about the unique event, The Viking Herald speaks to its organizer, Żaneta Reliszko, from the group Historicaltattoo

Attendees enjoyed performances by folk and medieval music bands like Daj Ognia and Javaryna, adding to the lively atmosphere. Photo: Cheyenne Olander

Beyond the present 

"I've been a reenactor since I was a kid and tattooing now for more than ten years," Żaneta begins. 

"At the start of my adventure, I saw outdoor tattooing performed without the help of a machine by Kai Uwe Faust and Patricia Nohr Campos. Non-machine methods were very rare back then – and still are today." 

Yet while most tattoo artists employ electronic techniques, for much of history – including during the Viking Age – people applied methods such as the hand poke, where the artist uses a needle to "poke" the ink into the skin, dot by dot. 

"I fell in love with the whole process so deeply that today I only do hand poke tattoos," Żaneta admits. 

"In the following years, more and more people have become interested in historical techniques and tattoo designs." 

"I also started tattooing at medieval markets and traveling to meet more tattoo masters like Colin Dale to watch them at work and learn from their knowledge." 

Artists at the festival showcased tattoos using traditional methods like hand poke and hand tapping, alongside modern electric techniques. Photo: Cheyenne Olander

The start of a dream 

Over time, Żaneta built up a team focused on historical tattoos and became interested in the idea of setting up an event to share their passion with others. 

"For a long time, I was dreaming about an independent event focused on history, art, and crafts," Żaneta, who hails from Poland, explains. 

"The idea for such a meeting has been in my head for years, but I was waiting for the best moment – and now we have found it!" 

"I was very lucky to meet Veronica Björkman, the director of the Birka Museum, at the Midgardsblot Festival two years ago," Żaneta tells us. 

"We got on very well, and after a few minutes, our common dreams became the start of the first edition of Birka Historical Tattoo Fest. Our cooperation and friendship went so well that our festival was held for the second time this year – and we already have the dates for 2025!" 

The festival offered a variety of workshops, including sessions on fabrics, weaving, throat singing, and historical stand-up comedy. Photo: Cheyenne Olander

Plenty to enjoy 

In addition to having the chance to obtain some unique tattoos, festival participants were able to immerse themselves in the daily life of the Vikings at the Birka site. 

This was achieved through hands-on craft demonstrations, rune readings, and a Viking market where they could buy historical replicas of jewelry, clothes, and furniture. 

The museum staff also provided historical tours of the island and the Viking graves, which were discovered in the late 19th century and have revealed many thousands of Viking Age artifacts. 

"People also had the opportunity to listen to wonderful folk and medieval music performed by the bands Daj Ognia and Javaryna," Żaneta adds. 

"There were workshops on fabrics, weaving, throat singing, and even historical stand-up. Event participants were also able to get unique wet plate collodion pictures created by the photographer Jan Skwara." 

The festival featured a diverse range of tattoo styles, including Nordic, Celtic, Baltic, prehistoric, and ornamental designs. Photo: Cheyenne Olander

A resounding success 

The festival was attended by many well-known tattoo artists from Europe and beyond who specialize in historical-themed tattoos. 

One of them, Sean Parry, owner and lead artist of the Sacred Knot Tattoo Parlor in Llandudno, North Wales, who specializes in Viking Age Nordic art and Celtic art from the Iron Age, was hugely enthusiastic about the festival. 

Parry described the event as "the largest gathering of Nordic tattoo artists to date. It's literally a defining moment in the history of modern Nordic tattooing.

"Events like this bring unity to the community and allow artists to support one another and grow together." 

Tiago Ragna, a Portuguese percussionist who lives in Kraków, Poland, and performed at the festival as a member of the band Daj Ognia, was similarly delighted with his time on the island.

"It was a very unique experience, as it was my first time in Sweden and spending a few days at what used to be the oldest Viking settlement in the country," Tiago commented.

"It was probably one of the most unique tattoo conventions I've been to, as the artist stations were blended within the museum itself, adding to the atmosphere!" 

Looking ahead, the next Birka Historical Tattoo Fest is scheduled for 2025, promising to build on the success of previous years with even more activities and artistic displays for attendees to enjoy. Photo: Cheyenne Olander

"Exceeding our wildest expectations" 

Żaneta, who is now preparing for festivals in Lithuania, Poland, and other parts of Scandinavia, couldn't be happier with the 2024 edition of the festival. 

"Even though this year's festival was twice as big as last year's, we still maintained an intimate atmosphere," Żaneta informs us. 

"We knew it would be an extraordinary time, but the results in 2024 exceeded our wildest expectations!" 

"We were able to watch our artists, musicians, craftsmen, and friends become closer every day and form new friendships and collaborations. People have been very helpful to each other from the first day they arrived in Birka." 

"Traveling leads all of us to make a lot of friendships," Żaneta adds. "Now I can say we have a whole family of tattooers who practice historical tattoos and organize different events." 

"We like each other a lot. We love spending time together, sharing our knowledge, and improving our skills, and thanks to this, we can all grow and support each other. We cross paths many times during the year at conventions, Viking markets, Viking tattoo conventions, and other unique meetings." 

The next Birka Historical Tattoo Fest will take place May 29-June 1, 2025. You can follow Historicaltattoo on Facebook and Instagram, and check out the Birka Viking Museum website for upcoming events on the island.

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