Many people assumed it was a manuscript compiled of charms, staves, and magic (often "black") gathered from knowledge gained during the Viking era.
Yet this book is a mid-19th century CE invention, about as old as Canada as an independent country.
Norse religion and magic
Although we, from the smugness of the 21st century CE, know that magic isn't real, people in the Viking Age (c. 793 – 1066 CE) did not.
Magic was an integral part of every pre-modern society, and the Vikings were no different. The traditional view of Western civilization is the triumph of science over first magic and then religion, but this view has, from the late 20th century CE onwards, been critiqued and challenged by scholars.
- READ MORE: The role of magic in Viking societies
Magic was a vital part of the Old Norse religion, which most people in Scandinavia believed in throughout the so-called "Viking Age."
This rich system of beliefs had its origins in Germanic Paganism dating from the Iron Age and involved elaborate rituals involving animal sacrifices, soothsaying, and the shaping of the future (the famed Seiðr).
Magical spells, staves (symbols, runes), and curses were also important parts of the magical aspect of the Old Norse religion. Furthermore, magic practitioners often needed communal help to invoke any number of Gods from the Norse pantheon or other deities and spirits.
In the northern realms of the Viking world, especially in the far north of the Scandinavian peninsula, the Sámi practice animist shamanism. It is believed an element of this form of worship entered the Old Norse religion further south.
The Christianization of Scandinavia
The long and storied process where Thor and Odin were swapped for Jesus and the Christian God has been explained in detail by much more erudite authors than we here at The Viking Herald.
Nonetheless, this was a long and drawn process that, for a large chunk of the "Viking Age," involved a synthesis of the new Christian faith and the Old Norse religion.
However, this synthesis did not last long as, when the battle was being fought (sometimes literally) for the souls of people in the Viking world, the zeal of Christians eventually reigned supreme.
By the beginning of the 11th century CE, Christianity had gained such a stronghold in the newly emerging kingdoms of Denmark, Norway, and Sweden that, within a few generations, the Old Norse religion would cease to enjoy support from the powerful and political elites.
The Old Norse religion, along with its wealth of magic, would still exist, but it was a dying religion. Its death in Scandinavia, however, would take another three centuries before finally being stamped out in the 13th and 14th centuries CE.
The Huld Manuscript was allegedly compiled in the tiny town of Akureyri, located at the base of the Eyjafjörður Fjord in the far north of Iceland. Pictured is Akureyri. Gestur Gislason / Shutterstock
A scholar, some symbols and sweeping Nationalism
What does an Icelandic manuscript then, compiled in the mid-19th century, some nine centuries after the traditional end of the "Viking Age," have to do with black magic?
The Huld Manuscript, which is sometimes referred to as the "Dark Manuscript," was said to be compiled in the tiny Icelandic town of Akureyri, nestled at the base of the Eyjafjörður Fjord in the far north of the island.
It was here, between 1857 and 1860, that Geir Vigfússyni scoured over several manuscripts dealing with Icelandic spells, charms, and supposed magical staves (symbols).
His manuscript then was not only the result of three years of work but, for many today, with a glancing knowledge of the "Viking World," represents some sort of secret magical book dealing with the "dark arts" of sorcery and magic.
Yet the manuscripts, believed to have been three, that make up most of the book were, in fact, written only decades earlier at the beginning of the 19th century CE.
Geir Vigfússyni would (more than probably) be appalled that one of his works would be misunderstood and misinterpreted in such a way.
This was, after all, a man of his times and, to borrow a phrase, a scholar and (very 19th century CE) gentleman.
His milieu, of course, was most of the 19th century where, in Europe, this was a time of Romantic Nationalism and the reawakening and relearning of cultural and social traditions, customs, and languages the continent over.
Iceland did not escape this pan-European movement, and Geir Vigfússyni was at the very forefront, compiling the first dictionary of the old Icelandic language.
As the Icelandic language is the least changed of all European languages from its medieval predecessor, his dictionary has been invaluable in understanding Viking history, from Iceland to Ireland, and from Portugal to Poland.
We, at The Viking Herald, owe him a debt of gratitude as our old Icelandic language skills are somewhat lacking...
Can we use the manuscript for nefarious purposes?
Unfortunately, the Huld Manuscript, the supposed font of knowledge for nefarious "black magic," is, in reality, little more than a collection of the explanation of Icelandic staves (magical symbols).
There are no spells to raise your long-dead houseplant back to life or to magically replenish the pizza you ate. Perhaps the most known magical stave in this manuscript is the Vegvisir symbol.
According to the manuscript, "If this sign, called the Vegsvisir (way-shower, or way pointer), is carried, one will never lose one's way in storms or bad weather, even when the way is not known" Take that, Google Maps!
Scholars and academics have, however, pointed out that there was no mention of this symbol before the Huld Manuscript.
The only people who appear to use it, as people in Viking societies certainly did not, are the wealth of modern-day Viking tragics and lovers – of which we at The Viking Herald owe an even bigger debt of gratitude to!
This symbol has been the basis for a plethora of artistic designs, from tattoos to jewelry and everything in between.
Magic may not be real, but there certainly seems to be something magical about the contemporary adulation of a 19th-century CE Icelandic manuscript.
Avaldsnes, billed as "Norway's Oldest Royal Seat" (where many of the Viking kings were crowned), has a large section on Viking magic, available to read on their website here.
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