(Read before the Isle of Man Natural History and Antiquarian Society, Ramsey, December 18th, 1903.)
P. M. C. KERMODE, F.S.A.SCOT., &c.
CARLYLE ("Heroes and Hero Worship ") has given us three good reasons for taking an interest in Scandinavian Paganism. It is the latest, having continued till the eleventh century; it was the creed of our fathers, the men whose blood still runs in our veins; and, it has been so well preserved. It might be added as a further reason for very special interest in the later Viking Mythology, that it was developed by the Scandinavian settlers in the British Isles, and took its final form under the hands of a few gifted poets of mixed Scandinavian and Celtic descent, and, most recent discovery of all, that it is here and here only--in Man and in the district of Cumberland, Westmoreland, and Lancashire--that one
finds scenes and stories from this Viking faith depicted on our Christian sculptured stones of the eleventh, or twelfth and thirteenth centuries.
The Vikings 1 appeared here first as pagans and plunderers, their earliest recorded attack being in 798, when they "burned Inis Patrick, broke the shrine of Dachonna, and took the spoils of the sea."--"Ann. Ult."
When Harold Haarfager was engaged in bringing all Norway under his sway, many of his countrymen, rather than submit, sailed westwards, greatly increasing the number of emigrants. Having succeeded in establishing his kingdom, Harold followed in 883, seeking to drive them out of the western islands. From Caithness, Hebrides, and the Orkneys, many made for the Faroes and Iceland, which owe their population to this circumstance, and it was among the latter that the epic prose compositions--the Sagas--originated. Others sought refuge in the isles--the Sudreys--whither Harold chased them as far south as the Isle of Man.
It appears to have been about the end of this ninth century that they came finally to settle in our island, these settlers being closely connected with the founders of the Scandinavian kingdoms in York and in Dublin. It was the descendants of these northern fathers and Celtic mothers, whose passionate eloquence, fluency, and vivid imagination, inspired the "Eddic Poems," weaving into the older myths weird legends and fantastic tales
founded on faint echoes of Celtic heathendom and distorted views of the Christian religion! Their previous contact with our Celtic cousins in the Sudreys, 1 and familiarity with their language, habits, and customs, and the connection of many of them by marriage ties, explain how they came to be received when they settled in our poor and sparsely-peopled island, not as foes, but as friends and powerful allies.
By the end of the tenth century Man and the Sudreys were united with the Nordreys and Caithness under Sigurd Earl of the Orkneys. Sigurd was captured by Olaf Tryggvason in the year 1000, and only released upon his undertaking that the Orkneys should accept the Christian religion, as all Norway had already done. The same year the Icelandic Althing formally legalized Christianity, and there can be no doubt that within the next few years the Scandinavian settlers generally had become at all events nominal Christians, and so we find that in our own island, before the last quarter of the century, we had a Norwegian--Roolwer (Hrolfr)--as Bishop in Man.
After the Battle of Largs, in 1263, and the destruction by storm of the Norwegian fleet, and after the death, in 1265, of our own king--Magnus, the Norwegian claims in Man were made over by treaty to Alexander III. of Scotland. Norse influence declined, and Norse traditions speedily died out or became overgrown and lost in the spread of our original Celtic folklore and the power of the incoming English civilization and culture.
2:1 The Vikings, Wick-folk, supposed to be so called as "men of the bays" from their infesting Wicks, creeks, and fiords; but, I prefer Vigfusson's later suggestion ("Corp. Poet. Bor.", I., Intro. lxiii.) that it was rather because they came to us from the Wick (Scage Rack), "the centre and natural outlet of the dales of South Norwegian tribes, of Gauts, of Jutes, the land whence Godfred and Ragnar and Guthrum, aye, and Harold Fairhair and his sons, and Cnut also, sailed West whence certainly came the leaders of the greatest kingdoms the Northern Emigrants raised in these islands."
3:1 The Vikings named the Orkneys and Shetlands the Nordreys or Northern Isles, and the Hebrides and islands off the West of Scotland, the Sudreys, Southern Isles, a term which has come down to us in the name of our ecclesiastical diocese, Latinized as "Sodorensis et Manniæ" which was contracted into "Sodor: et Man:" and finally corrupted into Sodor and Man!