Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Danes, Vikings, Hemp and Cannabis

According to historians, the Viking Age started in 790 A.D. and continued up until 1066 A.D., when the Normans finally conquered England. From around A.D. 800 to the 11th century, a vast number of Scandinavians left their homelands to seek their fortunes elsewhere. These seafaring people–known collectively as Vikings or Norsemen (“Northmen”)–began by raiding coastal sites, especially undefended monasteries, in the British Isles. Viking actually means 'pirate' in Old English, which is to say that it is an action or a profession. The Norseman were Danes at home in their Scandinavian where the Danes were farmer. Over the next three centuries, they would leave their mark as explorers, pirates, raiders, traders and settlers on much of Britain and the European continent, as well as parts of modern-day Russia, Iceland, Greenland, Newfoundland - and maybe even Minnesota (discovery of the Kensington Rhinestone).


Contrary to some popular conceptions of the Vikings, they were not a “race” linked by ties of common ancestry or patriotism, and could not be defined by any particular sense of “Viking-ness.” Most of the Vikings whose activities are best known come from the areas now known as Denmark, Norway and Sweden, though there are mentions in historical records of Finnish, Estonian and Saami Vikings as well. Their common ground–and what made them different from the European peoples they confronted–was that they came from a foreign land, they were not “civilized” in the local understanding of the word and–most importantly–they were not Christian.

Nearly 500 years before the birth of the Conqueror Christopher Columbus, a band of European sailors left their homeland behind in search of a new world. Their high-prowed Viking ship sliced through the cobalt waters of the Atlantic Ocean as winds billowed the boat’s enormous single sail. After traversing unfamiliar waters, the Norsemen aboard the wooden ship spied a new land, dropped anchor and went ashore. Half a millennium before Columbus “discovered” America, those Viking feet may have been the first European ones to ever have touched North American soil.

Some believe that the Vikings used cannabis solely for making textiles and ropes. The Viking culture relied heavily on their ships, which needed a strong material to endure the hard climate they lived in. Hemp was that strong material, with fibers sturdy enough to support their sails and its ability to be weathered. Contrary to this belief, some also found that the Vikings used cannabis for a number of other reasons including to relieve pain for toothaches and women during childbirth. Women also arguably smoked cannabis to promote childbirth during fertility rituals. Also, even though not necessarily used in their religion, many German tribes worshipped the same gods as Vikings while using cannabis.

Site of Sosteli Farm


On a secluded Iron Age farm in Southern Norway, archaeological findings show that it was common to cultivate hemp and cannabis in the Viking Age. The question is how the Vikings used the fibers, seeds and oil from the versatile plant.

For more than fifty years, samples from archaeological excavations at Sosteli Iron Age Farm have been stored in the National Museum of Denmark in Copenhagen, according to an article on research portal

Analysis show that in the period between the years 650 and 800 AD, i.e. the beginning of the Viking Age, hemp was cultivated on the remote mountain farm. This is not the first time there are found traces of cultivation this far back in time, but Sosteli stands out. Sosteli is located much less central than other places where similar findings are made, indicating that cannabis cultivation was common throughout the Viking Age.

Previously, there had been several findings of hemp seeds in Eastern Norway, including in the Hamar area, that dated back to the 400s AD. In another find, the Oseberg ship burial mound there was found a little leather pouch full of cannabis seeds belonging to an elderly women aged between 70 and 80.

The skeleton reveals that she had various health problems – most likely cancer that caused her death – and it is not unlikely that the seeds were used as painkillers.


The Oseburg burial mound was excavated by an archaeologist from Norway named Haakon Shetelig and Swedish archaeologist named Gabriel Gustafson in 1904 A.D. After a farmer near Tønsberg in Vestfold, Norway discovered evidence of a large gravesite. The Oseberg burial mound dating back to 834 AD is the richest Viking burial site ever found. It was excavated in 1904 and contained a Viking ship with two women, an elderly aged between 70 and 80 years old, and a younger about 50 years old.

One of the women in the Oseberg ship was found with a little leather pouch full of cannabis. Scientists ask themselves: How would she use them?

Amongst the everyday items and artifacts could be found bed posts, wooden chests, figurines, tools, woolen garments, silk, tapestries and leather pouches containing cannabis. The site was well preserved, mostly because of the large mass of clay surrounding the objects. Baskets of fruit and even bread dough were discovered. Historians have determined that the women were probably rulers, since normal individuals would not have been buried with so much treasure.

The cannabis in question was probably given to the older women to treat cancer, since DNA evidence shows that she probably died from the disease. The Vikings were very proficient in herbalism, and knew that various plants could cure illnesses, treat pain and induce psychoactive effects. This isn’t the first time Vikings have been found growing cannabis.

The older woman was carrying a leather pouch that has received much attention due to its content, Ellen Marie Næss, associate Professor at the Museum of Cultural History told Norwegian media. She had lots of pain due to illness and the cannabis found in her pouch must have eased her pains. At the same time, if she was a religious leader (Old Norse “Völva”) she needed to get in touch with the gods and cannabis would help her get in contact.

It is a fact that the Vikings were well aware of which plants that could provide intoxication. They had great knowledge of what the plants could be used for. Some would make them intoxicated while others would cure diseases and alleviating pain. In the Viking Age people used cannabis to make clothes and rope, so it may have been a symbol of an important plant, Næss said.

Some Scandinavian historians believe that Viking 'Bezerker Warriors' ingested Amanita muscaria mushrooms before going into battle. Wasson writes:

"No one who discusses the fly agaric in Europe can ignore the debate that has been carried on for almost two centuries in Scandinavia on this issue. First Samuel Odman in 1784 and then Frederik Christian Schubeler in 1886 propounded the thesis that those Viking warriors knows as 'beserks' ate the fly-agaric before they 'went beserk'; in short, that 'beserk-raging' was deliberately caused by the ingestion of our spotted amanita."

5 Facts About How Cannabis Was Used By The Vikings


In 1066, Harold Godwinesson, the son of King Edward’s most powerful noble, laid claim to the throne. Harold’s army was able to defeat an invasion led by the last great Viking king–Harald Hardrada of Norway–at Stamford Bridge, near York, but fell to the forces of William, Duke of Normandy (himself a descendant of Scandinavian settlers in northern France) just weeks later. Crowned king of England on Christmas Day in 1066, William managed to retain the crown against further Danish challenges.

The events of 1066 in England effectively marked the end of the Viking Age. By that time, all of the Scandinavian kingdoms were Christian, and what remained of Viking “culture” was being absorbed into the culture of Christian Europe. Today, signs of the Viking legacy can be found mostly in the Scandinavian origins of some vocabulary and place-names in the areas in which they settled, including northern England, Scotland and Russia. In Iceland, the Vikings left an extensive body of literature, the Icelandic sagas, in which they celebrated the greatest victories of their glorious past.

Vikings Official Trailer | History Channel 2013


The History Channel’s epic TV series “Vikings” is based on a Scandinavian tale, The Saga of Ragnar Lodbrok, which follows the adventures of Ragnar and his family, particularly his sons. (Side note of little consequence: Ragnar's name translates to "hairy breeches.")

A saga is a historical account in the broadest sense, but we need to remember that sagas weren't recorded until long after the actual events went down and are filtered through the time in which they are written.

This means they are based on oral history, passed down by descendants and are more historical fiction than fact, more legendary than accurate depictions of the past of great heroes and warriors.

While the Ragnar of the History Channel's series probably really existed, what we know about him is colored through years of storytelling and retelling and might not be the most historically accurate depiction of actual events.