Viking Pets – Vikings Loved Dogs by Rob Shackleford
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Dogs were important as pets for the Vikings and are featured in Norse myths as well as serving as faithful companions and guides to the afterlife.
The best-known dog from Norse mythology is Garm (or Garmr), who guarded the gates of the afterlife realm of Loki’s bizarre daughter, Hel. Garm is said to have kept the souls of the dead safely behind Hel’s walls while also keeping the living from trespassing in trying to bring a soul back to the land of the living.
Dogs were closely associated with the gods and the afterlife. The great Icelandic sagas mention dogs accompanying their masters to Valhalla after death. The dog acted as a kind of psychopomp, guiding the soul from the realm of life to the land beyond death.
More dog remains have been found in Scandinavian burial sites than in those of any other culture. Graslund notes how they obviously played an important sacrificial role in funerary rites but also how often they are depicted, sometimes in great detail, in rock carvings which show hunting scenes and also ritual ceremonies. According to German chronicler, Adam of Bremen (c. 1050 – c. 1085 CE), dogs were among the sacrifices at the Temple of Uppsala in Sweden dedicated to Odin, Thor, and Freyr, the fertility god and brother of Freyja.
Mother Goddess figures, or protective female deities in general, are often depicted with a dog, and in Norse mythology, they are linked to the powerful goddess Frigg, Odin’s consort who is sometimes depicted in a chariot drawn by dogs. It may be that Frigg’s association with dogs is a later development intended to further differentiate her from Freyja and her cat-drawn chariot but utilizing similar imagery. There are so many similarities between the two goddesses that scholars believe they might be the same deity.
Dogs were not only honoured through mythological and spiritual connections, however, but were an important part of everyday life in Scandinavia. Dogs were companions as well as working animals, and farmers who could afford it would keep both hunting and herd dogs.
|Hunting dog breeds still exist today and were:
|Herd dog breeds were:
These dogs were highly valued and became status symbols among the Norse. The more dogs one had, the greater one’s show of wealth and success.
Excavations of graves show dogs were imported to Iceland as skeletons of dogs have been found with their masters. The importance of the dog to its master is emphasized by the inclusion of dogs in Odin’s great hall of Valhalla in the afterlife.
It is not only the soul of the warrior that lives on in the hall but also that of his trusty dog.
About the author:
Hi, I’m Rob Shackleford. I am author of a number of novels, though so far only Traveller Inceptio and Traveller Probo have been officially published. As Traveller Inceptio looks at the fates of modern historical researchers sent to the early 11th Century Saxon world, Vikings do feature.
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