By Signe Horn Fuglesang
Fornvännen, Vol. 84 (1989)
Abstract: Identification of Viking period and medieval amulets entails problems of source criticism: the literary sources on medicine, leechcraft etc. are all late and depend on West-European prototypes, and to distinguish between amulets, ornaments and cult objects is difficult. Many types of amulets have been postulated for the Viking period and the Middle Ages, but the theories sometimes seem exaggerated.
Introduction: The identification of Viking and medieval amulets from Seandinavia entails several problems of source criticism. For instance, potentially relevant plant and animal remains in the archaeological material may have dissolved or been overlooked, and consequently what survives may not be representative. All texts on medicine and leechcraft are late (the earliest is from the 13th century) and depend on West European prototypes. They may reflect contemporary Scandinavian practices, but their value for our understanding of earlier customs remains doubtful unless confirmed by archaeological finds. In fact, all Scandinavian texts concerning amulets are late and projecting their information backwards in time can easily result in a circular argument. For example, attention may be drawn to the discrepancy between literature and actual remains in the case of runic inscriptions on weapons. The Sigrdnfumdl, written in the 13th century, contains a famous passage on how to incise “runes of victory” on weapons. In actual fact only 20 of the 5.000 or so weapons surviving from the Viking and Medieval periods bear runic inscriptions, and none of them has a magical content.