Thursday, April 9, 2009

Day of Remembrance - Jarl Hakon

Jarl Hakon enjoys more than one reference in the literature, thus we know a bit more about his history. Below are a few links for those who'd like to learn more.

Early Kings of Norway

Day of Remembrance for Jarl Hakon from the Assembly of the Elder Troth (all errors in typing belong to them)

Jarl Hakon was a dedicated heathen who fought against the tyrannical King Harald Fairhair of Norway and his sons, and actually regained ground lost to the Christianisation of his country.Hakon experienced the violence of religious imperialism first-hand. His father, Sigurd, Jarl of Kladir, was burned to death inside his hall by Harald's grandsons. Their leader was Harald Greycloak. At the urging of his nymphomaniacal mother, Harald and his brothers destroyed heathen temples, murdered chieftains, and levied exorbitant taxes. It was said that their sacrileges brought the bad weather and crop failures of the time.

Hakon vowed revenge, and got it by causing the deaths of Greycloak and his allies. Finally, Hakon and the Danish king - who was also named Harald - sailed to Norway with 600 ships and defeated Finehair's descendants. Denmark's ruler placed Hakon over western Norway, and the Jarl in turn paid tribute and vowed to assist the king in war.

During his reign, Hakon brought back the ancient rights of chieftains and farmers which Harald Finehair and his outlaw offspring had usurped. He rebuilt temples and honoured the Gods, so that, according to the skald Einar Helgason in his poem "Vellekla", the Northlands became fruitful again:

Earth bestows bounty as before Since the generous chieftain cheersThe folk to fare To worship without fear.

When war broke out between King Harald and the German Emperor Otto II, Hakon responded. He fought stoutly along the Danavirki, on the border between Denmark and Germany. Unfortunately for the Danes and for Hakon, the Germans won. Emperor Otto then put pressure on Harald to convert Norway - and Hakon - to Christianity. The Jarl was forcibly baptised, and made to take home with him a boatload of priests who were to christen his countrymen.

However, Hakon was made of sterner stuff than that. At the mouth of the fjord, he threw the priests overboard to sink or swim. He then attacked Danish lands in Skania, sailed to the east coast of Sweden, and gave a great sacrifice to Odin on the islands called the Gautasker. As Snorri says in Heimskringla, "Then two ravens came flying and croaked loudly, and the earl thought it certain that Odin had accepted the sacrifice, and that he would have success in fighting".

The omen proved true. Harald tried to invade Norway, but was thrown back. His days of paying tribute were over. Svein Forkbeard and the Jomsvikings hoped to ambush him but he discovered their scheme and countered with an overwhelming fleet of 180 ships and the famous battle of Hjorungavag resulted. When the outcome of the slaughter was in doubt, a hailstorm arose and blew into the faces of Hakon's foes, sending them fleeing. Odin had spoken.

Hakon modelled many of the virtues that we as Asafolk uphold. He was robust, bold and honourable. His valiant efforts for Asatru may have kept our ways alive long enough transferred to Iceland, where they took root in the literature that has come down to us. In other words, without Hakon we might not have our religion today. We owe him more than of Remembrance - but it is a start.

The reminder at Central States Heathens had this note: As a ruler of the western part of the realm, Hakon restored the worship of the Old Gods and cast out the alien religion. Our Folk regained religious liberties that were eradicated by Xianity. The flame of our faith burned brighter in an era of gathering gloom. It may be that Hakon's defense of our ancestral ways helped encourage the survival of our traditions in Iceland; the seeds of modern Asatru.


SiegfriedGoodfellow said...

Did I miss something here? Accomplished important things? Yes. Restored heathenism where he could? Yes. Honorable? Absolutely in no way! The man was a bastard! I mean, it's true that we need to be mature enough to appreciate that people are complex and that a person who is personally a bastard may still accomplish good things for his people, but I hardly equate treachery with honor!

"Between Hacon and Gold-Harald there was great friendship."


"Hacon the Jarl said to the king : " ... Now will I win Norway under thee and slay Gold-Harald, if thou wilt promise that I may easily be reconciled with thee for this deed ; I will be thy jarl and by my oath will I bind myself to win Norway with thy help...""


"Hacon the Jarl and Gold-Harald met a little while after Harald Greyskin fell. Hacon the Jarl went to battle and there he had the victory. Harald was taken and Hacon had him fastened on the gallows."

Some friend! I mean, talk about treachery! And all for personal gain! With no evidence presented by Snorri that Gold-Harald had done anything to deserve this! What was his motivation to kill his own friend?

I don't deny that he did help restore the temples, which is good, but it doesn't turn treachery into honor.

Then, of course, there's "It is a tale among men that Hacon the Jarl had in that battle sacrificed his son Erling to get victory..." Ok, granted, this is just a tale among men, but if true, what a wonderful statement about his character : he'll engage in ritual murder of his own son in the mistaken belief that this will have any impact on events. If true, very, very sad, and not only sad, but downright criminal and abominable. But I'll give benefit of the doubt that in Snorri's story this may merely be Christian propaganda that circulated around.

SiegfriedGoodfellow said...

Of course, if one was a woman, one might not like Hacon the Jarl very much either : "But as time went on, it often happened with the jarl that he was improper in his dealings with women ; the report went far and wide that the jarl had the daughters of mighty men taken and brought home to him ; he lay with them a week or two and then sent them home. Hereby he was shown great unfriendliness by the women's kinsmen and the bonders began to grumble..." Ya think?

So he forcibly kidnaps and abducts women to have sex with them for two weeks, and then sends them home. Last time I checked, kidnapping and rape weren't really honorable deeds. And it's clear this was completely unconsensual because it was repeatedly protested against. Not only that, it was, as is appropriate, seen as abominable behavior. So much so that an entire "army of bonders" went after him.

In fact, this rapacious behavior brought on his death, as he went too far, and the army of bonders went after him, and he had to hide (some courage!!) in a pigsty. Great behavior on the part of a noble! He acts bold when leading a battle and fleecing the citizenry of women, but when the people rise up, he acts like a complete coward.

What was the popular reaction?

Well, first they exhumed his body, dragged it away, and burned it. These were pissed peasants!

Then? "The strength of the enmity, which the Tronds now showed towards Hacon the Jarl, became so great that no one dared name him in any way other than as "the evil jarl" ; this byname was used long after."

The folk themselves had declared that he was evil! And the dishonor they heaped upon his corpse is symbolic of how dishonorable they felt he had been in life.

Snorri tries to shore up his reputation by saying that nevertheless, he had a "great lineage" -- like anyone cares about that when it comes to a friend-killer, a son-killer, and a serial rapist -- that he was a clever politician (Snorri says "wisdom and insight to use his power", nice euphemism), and that he was "bold in battle" and won victories.

Torleiv Raudfeldarson said, "Hacon! We have not / A more noble jarl / 'Neath the path of the moon."

Oh, really? Had skalds really become such syncophants by this time? He certainly didn't speak for the folk!

He accomplished some good things. But how it all weighed out in the balance, on his doomsday? Very difficult to say.

But the folk themselves did not doubt how that trial would end up, and in their estimation was not very good for Hacon the Jarl :

"The whole army gathered there and shouted and cast stones at them [the heads of Hacon and his thrall] and said that there could the one outcast fare with the other."

In other words, he was as good as a thrall, and that meant the folk didn't think he'd be making Einherjar rank anytime soon.

I'm willing to count his accomplishments as important. But it's hard to hear him described as "honorable" when his reported deeds speak so differently.

SiegfriedGoodfellow said...

Quick review of the Saga of the Jomsvikings confirms that he sacrificed his seven-year-old son!! It even tells us who did it : the same thrall who ended up killing Hacon himself later. There is a certain irony here, and not a little bit of poetic justice on the part of the norns, wouldn't you say, which perhaps demonstrates just what the Holy Powers themselves thought of such heinous ritual murder --- of one's own kinsman!!

Morning Angel said...

All good points, SG. Thank you for your comments and for visiting my blog. I am honored.

SiegfriedGoodfellow said...

It is an honor to visit! And may I thank you profusely for your honoring of me on your blog! I'll, um, keep working on my titles! (And I do have a piece in the works explaining precisely why I call my blog "Heathen Ranter". It actually is making reference to the 17th Century English Ranters...)