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Donnerstag, 30. April 2015

The new sheath for Gládhustrók

 I figured one thing: A Viking bling sheath looks great. It´s even a comfortable carry around the camp or the fair. It keeps the blade securely in, it´s very sturdy and simply looks great. But there are distinct disadvantages. It´s a bit clumsy when dangling from your belt. If you have to move through the thicket, it gets stuck to branches and thorns, adds heft to movements to which you are not accustomed. In martial training it can compromise your movements. So it´s better to keep any weight close to your body, and any accelerated mass as little as possible. Since our ancestors were no complete idiots, I strongly suggest that those sheaths found in the burials were especially made for special representative occasions, such as one´s own burial, for instance;-). Vikings seem to have been quite the show-offs. But then they certainly could in the first place. But they were no tarts, either. Surviving in a world where you can´t simply buy fast food just over the street, where you had to work hard for your welfare means you need knowledge or you´d die. So it was well esteemed to be skilled, and someone who did not have enough skills was called "ósnotr madhr", "mind-challenged man" (I refer to the Eddic strophes in the Hávamál).

Men had to be skilled in martial arts, crafts and arts, knowledge and cunning. One was estimated far higher for cunning than mere fighting prowess, and it is a mistake to assume Vikings would storm a city if they could help it. Recently this prejudice was fed again in the media...:-/ (I refer to this TV production, whatsitcalled, you know, the one with the underwear model in a starring role and that Taekwondo gurrl with the steel boobies that can actually bend a round shield... or wait, was the shield maybe not made from wood, but hard foam?*ggg*...).

So one can safely assume, that, when working and hunting or even "raiding":-P, Viking men would not actually carry that much bling looking like a chrismas tree, but a more subdued attire.

I made a more simple sheath for actual working with this knife due to my experiences with a bling sheath, and I want to ask the question if Vikings actually wore them in battle or when working or if they used a more subdued and maybe more practical kit. I know that the custom in Norway even today is to have one finely made knife for special formal occasions and one for hard working in the woods. I will do some further research on the topic. Maybe I just messed up with my interpretation, and other people have different experiences, too.

Anyway, I made a simple sheath, with a "classical" belt loop. This fact posed another question: Since there is no archaeological evidence for a sturdy belt loop, I asked myself, why this was the case. The line of thinking around the advantages of a sturdy belt loop centers around the fact that this way a knife is easier to draw with one hand. It requires a sturdy base in a wide belt. All this adds up to a picture where a knife user sees an advantage in having
a) the possibility to draw the knife with one hand.
b) a firm and sturdy mounting on the belt
This leads to assuming that
a1) the user needs the other hand to work with
a2) the user needs the other hand to aid in different actions, maybe a defensive movement
b1) a fixature of the hips and lower back support or keeping the weight close to the body
b2) a sturdy base to draw fast.

The layout of a sturdy belt loop is especially popular with hunting knives, but also fighting knives, so much in fact that many modern sheaths are made from Kydex(TM). A flexible mounting, as with many Saami knives and most bushcraft knives, has the advantage to aid in some movements and when sitting down. That way the handle will not constantly poke into your ribs. It´s more comfortable.

My theory now goes towards a different reception of knives in general. For personal defence and attack people in the Viking age used an axe, a long seax, a spear and shield. Rare are the documents that actually hint of the use of a knife as a weapon. I can remember one saga, but have forgotten the title (I think it was in Grettir´s or Hrolf Kraki´s saga, but am not sure), where the protagonists are assaulted at a feast. It was customary to store the weapons at the clothing room, except for the table knives, which often were highly decorated. The assaulted guests in the saga had to defend themselves with their cutlery, and this was considered shameful.

Even if a sword is suspended from a belt chain, it can easily be drawn with one hand, and it even more so goes for polearms like axe or spear. A seax, however, is a different matter. It can be a bit of a bummer to get a seax carried at the back suspended from two flexible loops out fast and smoothly enough to draw and cut in one fluent motion, which is crucial for fighting.

So I think knives were seen as tools. They even had a  pseudo - ritualistic character, for they were by nature playing a pivotal role at the feast, which was considered as sacred. The receptions of an afterlife in the often ill-received Valhóll (Valhalla) being an eternal feast give testament to this. The handles of those knives found are often decorated with concentric circles (a most ancient ornament dating back to the Neolithic age), zoomorphic or anthropomorphic or simple knotwork ornaments, triangles and other geometric decoration, which one could easily interpret as having an apotropaeic function due to many consistent ethnographic comparisons. Even in the 20th century ethnological field research documented many customs in Finland involving a Puukko serving this function. This function, however, was not generated by the use as a weapon or the cutting ability, but by the material aspects of the artefact. It was iron itself, as the story in the Kalevala, the Finnish National epic poem indicates. Iron (Rauta) had a soul, and "väkirauta" was the "folk of iron" invocated in many forms of agricultural magic. In early Christian Germany, up to the 20th century, the knife fulfilled many aspects of a feasting ritual,  especially in giving thanks before the meal to God.

I personally think now, that it is safe to assume, that if the Vikings deemed the feast as such a kind of ritual service (compare giving thanks before the meal), that the richly decorated knives were carried at the feast to be used as a maybe not even structural, but essential tool. This is of course a commonplace, since the host did not provide for cutlery in that time, so you needed a knife to cut the meat and for eating in general. Quite certainly they were not seen as weapons, and it was seen as a last-ditch resolve, if not a shame to use a knife for defending oneself.

So back to the sheath. It´s a modern approach, then. To me it´s more practical (and not because I need it for fighting;-), whoever thinks a knife fight is romantic has never really thought about it and might want to get a good psychotherapist). I also have tried something new that Willi brought up and Nick inspired me to: I used to use water soaking for modelling and reinforcing, but have tried to do this with pure alcohol (Pure Ethanol, Spiritus). That way you don´t have to add layers of duct tape to the blade that gets thrown away afterwards, it dries far quicker and makes for a more controlled soak when modelling. Then I added three soaks of a mixture of spirit alcohol, beeswax and linseed oil before heat-waxing it to a firm and sturdy sheath that actually locks around the handle. I personaölly like it... 

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