A bad friend lives far awayHavamal, Stanza 34
thought his house lie on your road,
but it’s no distance to one who is dear
thought you travel many miles.”
The Tudor Era of England began in 1485 when King Henry the VII took the throne and runs all the way to 1603, at which time Queen Elizabeth I passed away. Most ren festivals place themselves during this period, at which point England was going through a noticeable renaissance that endeared itself to history. The Viking Era took place between 793 A.D. – 1066 A.D, a little over four hundred years before the first Tudor took the throne, and is marked by the large-scale raiding, trading, and settling that took place during its years.
This begs the question: “What are Vikings doing at a ren faire?”
Before we get started, it’s important to clarify a few things for the newbies. The term ‘Vikings is really more of a semi-modern colloquialism. Viking was a profession, not a people, and it was a seasonal one if truth be told. While raiding and exploration were a good way to make money, one still had to tend to their family back home. Which meant most of those tough warriors who sailed the ocean, stealing gold from Saxon England, went home to spend most of their time farming. The actual people were from Norway, Denmark, and Sweden. At the time they were likely called Norsemen, though we now know them as Scandinavian.
Over time, these people settled in new areas expanding throughout Europe. But their exploration and trade carried much, much further. There is generous evidence supporting that they took their ships as far as northern Africa, trading and raiding in Spain, Morocco, and Algeria who were at the time largely under Muslim rule. They even made it as far as North America, with evidence proving that they met with indigenous people such as the Beothuk and Thule.
While the Viking Age was relatively brief, its impact is undeniable. They expanded, they settled, they intermarried, and they left their mark on history in a way that lasts into the modern era. As such, it should come as no surprise that they have a significant community in many faires and festivals. The Viking community of ORF is a wonderfully open and welcoming group of people, and believe me they are easy to spot!
The unofficially official home of the Viking group at ORF is The Lost Viking Hoard, with Nancy M. Valette as den mother/commander of the crew.
My husband and I found ORF in the second year it was held. We attended as patrons and were enchanted and wanted more. We traveled a lot in those days to various festivals around the country. Ed was not a small man or presence. He walked into Bristol Faire, saw a booth selling Horned Viking helmets and determined if he could find one that fit, he would wear it. I made his first set of garb to match the helm, and Eddval happened. For a couple of years, I wore English garb. Running out of living people to dress. I created soft sculpture people, dragons, and a few other things. As time went on, time shifted as did hours to pursue stock and the focus shifted to where we are today. I fostered contacts to get more furs, my cousin began making the helms we have and it became much more. A time went on, Ed invited those we knew to invade on a specific weekend all together dressed as Vikings. The first year, there were 4. The following about 40, the next year many came in. We would go to dinner after faire. Some got together and a loose group formed. We would go to the movies or dinner when possible. There are no expectations for the crew as we called the people. No meetings, nothing formal, someone would have an idea of a thing to do and we would do it.”Nancy M. Valette
Like with many faire communities, it didn’t have any official standing or title to go off of. Faire tends to draw people together, and those that stand the test of time are made up of people who cobble themselves together into a found family.
A group formed who wanted to be fighters, others in learning more of the heritage and history of the Norse people learned crafts, some were able to start small business from it. Some you see around faire, some other venues. Back when student days were happening at festival, students from Ashville attended, went back and as part of a specific program at the muddle school studied the renaissance time period and put on their own faire in November. A bus accident on the way in 97 caused them not to make it. We live here and had volunteered several years with them to put on the show. We decided that if they could not come to us we would bring what we could to them. We asked several cast members to join us and they did. As an amazing gesture, many cast came to support those kids on a rainy Thursday in Nov. And for a couple of years beyond. Based on that, the town asked Ed and I to sponsor a medieval festival in the spring for all a few years after that. The discussions to do that lead to the Viking Festival as it is today.”Nancy M. Valette
Something that blossomed from the critically overlooked knowledge of Vikings as traders were the Viking Trade game that is now expanded throughout all of ORF. The idea is simple enough to participate in. All you really need is a small pouch and a bundle of…stuff. Random things like fish tank marbles, cool looking leaves, and whatever else captures your child’s imagination. The next time you head into the festival, keep an eye out for this rune:
If you see it, that means the booth or person is open to trade. You take one of your items out of the pouch and offer it in exchange for whatever they have. Some booths are known for particular pieces, such as the ‘free B’ from The Brown Cow. It’s a great way to track where you’ve been during the day all for the cost of a handful of interesting junk! Long-standing patrons are known to participate, as well as cast members. So keep your eyes open.
We trading with children started with Ed and Johan trading with a specific family 10 or 12 years ago. As time went on they traded with more and more children. Several other booths noticed the interaction with kids (our future) and began trading as well. A couple of years ago I asked the festival if I could share with other merchants what we were doing. They said yes, and it began to spread. We just brought it to faire to interact in a positive way for kids to be able to have an interactive experience at faire instead of always only hearing ‘No, too expensive for you.’ “Nancy M. Valette
You can go a’Viking too!
The Viking group is extensive to say the least. With its very own ‘barbarian’ weekend bringing out history nerds and fans alike, it’s safe to say that everyone can get into the spirit and enjoy dressing in furs and leather! While not everyone who shows up in Norseman garb is a member of the community, there are many who put a great deal of time and effort into their fascination as reenactors, members of the SCA, or fans of the popular History Channel show, Vikings. Whether you lean more towards fantasy or history, there are a couple of things to remember when going ‘a’viking’ in the modern day.
1) Everyone is welcome!
With kindness and consideration in mind, it is far better to share the history of the Norse folk with everyone interested so that it never leaves our memories. There is so much joy to be had and the current trend of exploration had brought forth amazing news from warrior women found buried with their weapons to recent discoveries of a trade route passing through Norway. So keep a spot open in the mead hall and remember that hospitality is a virtue.
2) Accuracy is a flexible concept.
Some people work very hard to create garb that is as close to historically accurate as possible. Others prefer to play with more media-influenced notions and RPG. Both are totally fine. Don’t be shy about exploring your garb options and even adding a little bit of both where you feel it suits you. But I won’t lie, traditional Norse garb is some of the most comfortable stuff I have ever worn to faire.
3) Not all Norsemen were warriors.
True, it’s more fun to walk around with an axe in your belt. But the weaver is just as important as the shieldmaiden, the goat herder just as needed as the jarl. If crafting a persona for your Viking self, take some time to learn about the things people did when the seas were rough and the ships anchored to shore. The crafts are fascinating in and of themselves, and you may just find something that amazes you.
The Viking Community at ORF
I’ve been into ancient history and Viking culture for most of my life. It’s actually my heritage being a combination of Scottish and Germanic- Scandinavian. I love the myths, stories and I loved the cultures as a whole so I started researching it and making somewhat accurate historical clothing and accessories to wear to events. Never in my wildest dreams that I ever think I would join a reenactment group though.”Kat Taylor
Dave and I were adopted by the Hoard in maybe 2015? When we first performed at Ashville Viking festival, we stepped into the role of entertainment coordinators shortly thereafter and I got progressively more involved with the group and their other events. When I adopted Bear in 2018 he started coming to events as the “camp dog” and he’s now a part of the village! The group is our family. We care for and support each other without expectations or conditions. I feel very lucky to have been accepted into this truly amazing group of humans.”Felix Felicis
It began 23 years ago, (1998), on a rainy cold faire day when I holed up in the Lost Viking Hoard shop with my daughter in a stroller bundled up so much only her cheeks showed. The big Viking in the horned helmet with a big warm laugh gently teased me about my baby being the warmest person there. I came back many times. I was attending faire in about 2000 with my friend Tim Greene who was wearing beautiful barbarian red leather armor he had made himself. Ed Vallette approached us and asked if Tim would like to be a Viking and join him in invading the Mudmens 4 pm Beowulf show. Tim said yes and I asked if I could come too. I remember skipping down the lane on the backside of Faire as this wall of big men in furs and leather and helmet strode down to walk into the back of the Beowulf show. That was the first ever event of the Lost Viking Crew.”Skye Andavarrio
A Note from LVH: While the Viking Trade is now a mainstay of faire, the LVH has decided to discontinue giving out their pins since the passing of Ed Valette, Nancy Valette’s husband and the origin of the Hoard. Many long-time faire goers may remember these pewter pins from the earlier days from ORF, but out of respect for his memory, they will no longer be offered. Please respect LVH’s decision in this regard.