A couple of months ago, my friend, Brion of Bellatrix, received a poem that was written for his lady, Ula Brennasdottir, by the talented Leofwen Cryccthegn Deorcwuda. He then asked if he could commission a scroll from me in order to properly present it to her. I was happy to oblige because Ula is an SCA rock star and has been very active in our local province since she moved here. Plus, she’s just an overall awesome person. 😃
Brion wanted the scroll to be Viking style since the poem calls Ula a Valkyrie (and I believe Ula’s SCA name is Viking in origin as well). I hadn’t done an original Viking style scroll before, so I did some research on Pinterest (which is how I start all of my SCA research). The thing with Vikings is that they didn’t make illuminated manuscripts. They did, however, make a lot of runestones. So, that’s what I used as inspiration.
Often times, the stone carvers used the natural shape of the stone and made their carvings fit to it. But there are also many examples of the stone being carved into this sort of keyhole shape and then being decorated with carvings and paint. Since I would be starting with a rectangular piece of pergamenata, I figured this distinctive keyhole shape would best suit my needs. I am not sure what, if any, significance this shape has, but I would like to research it more in the future.
As for the iconography, I knew that I wanted to include a Valkyrie and possibly an owl or two because Ula’s device features a snowy owl. I found a few examples of Valkyries on rune stones but more often as jewelry. Most of the time they’re shown offering a drinking horn, but I found one extant brooch where the Valkyrie was holding a sword and shield. I thought that’d work perfectly since the poem describes Ula, who does heavy fighting, as a warrior.
Unfortunately, there are no extant examples of owls that I have been able to find. However, there are a lot of ravens depicted in Viking art. So, to come up with the owls for this piece, I sketched out a roughly owl-shaped outline in the pose that I wanted. I looked at how the feathers and wings of ravens were depicted in Viking art and used that as inspiration for details of the owl. It took a couple of tries, but I am pretty happy with how it turned out.
Here are a couple of pictures of the rough draft/ general layout of the piece, to give you an idea of my process.
I drew the Valkyrie from the picture of the brooch I found. Once I was happy with my owl drawing, I traced it onto tracing paper and used that to transfer it onto the draft. Then I flipped it over and transferred it onto the other side to make a mirror image.
Once I was done with the general layout, I had to plot out my knotwork around the border and in the middle. I thought this would be pretty simple, but it turns out going around curves with knots is pretty tough. By the way, this is the first time I have laid out a scroll from scratch. I usually trace out an extant design or a charter that someone else had designed. I used my book, Great Book of Celtic Patterns by Lora S. Irish, to find a nice, uniform knotwork pattern. I shrank it down with the copier so it would fit into my design and traced it onto the straight parts. I had to get a little creative around the corners. On the sides where the shape curves out, I couldn’t make the pattern fit nicely into the shape, so I ended the knotwork and started it up again. Not really ideal, but I think it looks good in this case. I used a different knot pattern from the same book for the middle dividing line. I had to fudge it a little to make it fit properly, but it worked out pretty well.
Another unique challenge of doing a Viking style scroll is deciding which script to use for the writing. As I mentioned before, they did not make illuminated manuscripts, and, therefore, they did not use a quill to make letters. Thus, their letters look nothing like the calligraphy we typically see on scrolls. Their runes were simple lines carved into the stone, often between two lines/channels.
A Laurel in my kingdom, Master Björn, created a script that makes English letters look like Viking runes. He graciously wrote out an exemplar for me which I used to do the writing for this scroll. Rather than using a quill, this script uses an archival quality felt tipped marker to create the desired uniform, round shape for the letters. The letters usually look best between two lines, but for this project, it made the text look too crowded.
After consulting with Brion, we decided to leave off the lines and put a small gap between each line. Also, text on runestones was typically all bunched together without leaving spaces after one line of text. However, since this was a poem, we wanted to keep the line divisions how the poet originally intended. Because of the spacing of the lines, we decided to center justify the text rather than left justify it. It didn’t come out perfectly, so that’s something I’ll need to work on for any future center justification projects.
For the color palette, I took inspiration from reproduction runestones. When looking at examples online, I saw a lot of brick red and golden yellow along with some bright blues. As for the Valkyrie and owls, I opted for naturalistic coloring because in one reproduction runestone I found with a human figure, he was painted in flesh tones, and I wanted it to be obvious that the owls were snowy owls.
As a result, the final product has vibrant colors which I think is appropriate for Ula and her vibrant personality. Here is the finished scroll:
The poem reads:
Woman of worth, from the North you did wander,
a Valkyrie strong, victorious and valiant;
loyal and loving, the West learns from your heartlore;
great is your skill; gracious in giving, there are many you teach.
In tackling a task, it is known you will triumph;
those warriors you wrestle will soon know defeat.
In seeking out knowledge, your thirst is unslaked;
onwards you travel, endeavoring always,
undaunted ever, to hunt and to delve you dare.
Mother and warrior, a maker with wisdom,
you gather us in; through your gifts we all grow.
Brion presented the scroll to her at the annual Newcomers Tournament that our local group puts on. Since my husband, Karius, was the autocrat, he arranged for Brion to give a speech about what it is to be a knight. This allowed Brion to smoothly transition into how important his consort is to his success as a knight and then honor her with the poem and scroll. The poet, Leowfyn, read her words aloud from the scroll in front of those gathered. It was a lovely way to show Ula the appreciation she so rightfully deserves, and I was thrilled to be a part of it.