The Valkyries’ Loom

I am reading a book recently published The Valkyries’s Loom: The Archaeology of Cloth Production and Female Power in the North Atlantic a fascinating history of women and weaving in the Viking world of Iceland mostly, Greenland, Faroe Islands and northern Europe. Michele Hayeur Smith’s research into the 1,000 years of Iceland weaving traces social, cultural and the economics of life in Iceland and the role women played.

Textiles are texts (literally, that is the origin of the word ‘text’ to weave), and in Iceland these textiles tell of the impact of Celtic woman immigrants on the spinning and weaving of cloth. The diameter of the weft tell of climate change and the standardization of the width tells of economic trade.

Fascinatingly, Smith starts with the Valkyries myth which reaches out to you and grabs you around the heart! Valkyries are mystical female spirits who flew above the battlefields choosing who was to fall. The poem written in the 13thC about events circa 1,000 is talking about weaving on the warp-weighted loom. This type of loom is vertical and stones , clay or bags of rocks or sand weigh the warp threads taunt and the weft is threaded between the warps. The Valkyries loom works the same but with battle scarred tools:


See! warp is stretched

For warriors’ fall,

Lo! weft in loom

‘Tis wet with blood;

Now fight foreboding,

‘Neath friends’ swift fingers,

Our gray woof waxeth

With war’s alarms,

Our warp blood red,

Our weft corse blue.

This woof is y-woven

With entrails of men,

This warp is hard weighted

With heads of the slain,

Spears blood-besprinkled

For spindles we use,

Our loom iron bound,

And arrows our reels;

With swords for our shuttles

This war-woof we work;

So weave we, weird sisters,

Our war winning woof….

From Njals Saga Chapter 156

And that is just the first page. Here’s a video of an interview with her.

And if you want to order the book:

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