Within the stav
tradition there is a poem handed down; the poem is basically a description of
the content and knowledge within the tradition. The poem is written in an old
Norse alterative form of metric verse. This form of verse was used in most of the
poems of the Edda, and there are runestones in Sweden written with these types
of verses.

I would identify the specific form of verse in the stav poem as Fornyrðislag;
which consists of eight lines of text, each line has two emphasized syllables,
and the lines are grouped in pairs by alliteration. It is not easy to express
what you want to say in this form of verse, and good poets were highly regarded
in the pre Norse society. It was a great honor if a poet wrote a verse about your
achievements and character; perhaps comparable to someone commissioning an
expensive painting of them self today.

The ancient poets of Scandinavia travelled around from king to king and
recited poems about the gods, heroes and kings. The king of the gods Oden, was
regarded as the god of the poets, which indicates what a high status they had. Some
of the most revered heroes of the Viking age even made poems as they were
dying; one example is Ragnar Lodbrok- who´s legend has been capitalized by the popular
television show “Vikings”.

I have really tried my best to make a good translation of the stav poem from
Norwegian to English. I have tried to stay true to the meaning, but still tried
to keep as much as the alliteration as possible. The poem has only been handed
down to the modern stav community as eight lines of text, with absolutely no
separations; so I barrowed the separations from Erik Brates Swedish translation
of the Edda poem Vǫluspá.

This is my English translation of the stav poem:

Hounds bait,
horses tame,
falcons fly;
upon skis fare,
bending bows,
billows ride;
staves are done,
by Heimdall´s sons.

The poem describes
seven skills and knowledges. If one reads the Edda poem of Rigstula one will
notice that knowledge and skill is what separates the classes; the further up on
the social ladder, more skills are demanded. Being able to describe these
skills in alliterated verse is a statement in itself. Since stav has been a
closed tradition it should be seen as an internal statement and an internal
definition of belonging to the top levels of society.

I will
describe the poem two lines at the time, since this is the way Fornyrðislag is
constructed.

The two first lines are “Hounds bait, horses tame”.

“Hound bait”
refers to hunting with dogs, the traditional way of hunting with dogs in
Scandinavia is by using dogs that keeps the pray at bay until the hunter could
come forth and kill the animal. The method of hunting is very similar to the
way the hunting with cur dogs is conducted in the USA, except that we usually
do not hunt dogs in packs in Scandinavia.

The Scandinavian
spitz type of breeds used for hunting is very common and amongst the oldest
breeds in Scandinavia; an example of such a breed is the Norwegian Elkhound.
This type of dog is even found in Viking age burials.

Within the
stav tradition it is said that they used to breed a large mastiff type of dog.
The indigenous mastiff´s of Scandinavia is more or less extinct, there were not
much use of them after the wolfs temporary disappeared about a hundred years
ago. There is just one breed left, the reconstructed Danish Broholmer.

Horses tame
refers to the knowledge of being able to tame and ride horses; a greatly
revered knowledge in ancient Scandinavia; it is not a coincidence that Oden is
associated with an eight legged steed.

In
premodern Scandinavia one would need to know more than just how to handle the
horse. The horseman would have to be able to manufacture, or at least maintain,
the equipment needed; which needs skills in leather work. They would also need
to be able to attend the horse if it became ill or injured.

The
pre-Christian Scandinavians are reputed for their ability to use boats to
travel long distances; people seldom think of the fact that they also were a
horse culture. Some scholars say that
the Vikings probably gathered horses when they attacked the coastal areas; and
then used the horses to swiftly move inland to attack settlements there.

The next
two lines say “falcons fly; upon skis fare”. To fly
falcons refers to falconry, in pre-Christian Scandinavia it was regarded to be a
skill of the nobility; in many ways it was seen as a magical skill to be able
to get a wild bird of prey to work on your command. It would take me a long
time to explain it in detail, but anyone that flew falcons had great respect.

Falconry was
introduced in Scandinavia during the migration period, and it seems that it to
a large extent disappeared during the middle ages. Today falconry is forbidden
in all three Scandinavian countries.

The
falconry within the stav tradition is quite different compared with the
continental and the English falconry. There were two types of birds that were
used, goshawks and the Eurasian eagle-owl; the owl was not a bird used
traditionally on the continent. Within the stav version of falconry the birds
were flown from baskets that were carried on the back by the falconer. The
birds were trained to return to these baskets after the hunt; instead of
returning to the hand that is the common method within falconry. This enabled
to fly the birds without jesses and bells; which gives stav-falconry totally
different conditions compared to continental and English falconry.

The main prey
within the tradition were foxes that were hunted for their fur, which was a great
income. As soon as the winter came the
traditional stav practitioners used to freeze fish to the ground on a meadow
behind their house; and waited for the foxes to try to come and try to eat the
fish. They watched the spot from their window with the help of the moonlight;
as soon as a fox would appear they sent their bird off right out of the window.
Eagle-owls are nocturnal hunters, and they fly completely silent, the prey will
not even know what hit them. Fox fur were one of the items traded at the winter
thing market; which I have already covered on the blog.

In the
1980´s scientists analyzed the bones within fourteen graves of Viking age
chieftains; the graves were mainly located in the proveniences of Uppland and
Sörmland in Sweden. Twelve
of these graves contained bones originating from birds of prey. There were about
24 birds found in the graves; the predominant species were Eurasian eagle-owls
and northern goshawks.

Again; to
be able to fly falcons would require more than just flying the bird. The
falconer needs to know how to capture the bird; and how to imprint it and how to
train it. He also needs to be able to manufacture the equipment needed.

“Upon skis
fare”, simply means that one can use skis; and could move about in nature to
hunt and support the family during the winter. Oddly enough most stav practitioners
today seems to come from countries were there hardly is any snow, so perhaps it
is hard to relate to this aspect. But in Scandinavia there is occasionally
rough winters. Before there were modern roads and snowploughs; people would
more or less be trapped in their house during the winter, unless they could
ski.

The deity
associated with skiing is Ull; which is also apparent when it comes to the jarl
version of his rune stance. The stance is still taught children in Scandinavia
when they are learning to ski; it is referred to as ploughing. It is amongst
the first skiing techniques learned; since it is used to slow down when going
downhill. Of course none of the parents teaching their kids have a clue that
they are teaching what we in stav regard to be a runic posture.

“bending bows,
billows ride”

Bending bows
refers to the art of shooting with bows, or archery; both as a martial art and
for hunting. It connects with the previous line; Ull is also the god of archery.
The name of Ulls rune is “Yr” which linguistically relates to the yew tree; traditionally
the preferred tree of making bows. According to Norse myths the domain of Ull
is called Ydalar, the valley of the yew. This is one of the instances were the
connection between a deity and rune as it is described within stav can be
confirmed. By using a logical approach to the preserved knowledge, it is
possible to reverse some of these connections; especially when we already have
the key as we do in stav.

The oral
stav tradition tells that the stav bow was a quite odd creation; it was a
combination of a spear and a bow, it had a spearhead attached at one end.
Another interesting thing in the oral myths of stav is that the bow could be
used as an improvised shield; redirecting the attack by having the attackers
axe bounce back of the string. It is said that the recoil when the weapon hits
the string is quite powerful and the attackers own weapon could potentially
harm himself on return.

“To ride
the billows” means to ride the waves by using a boat, the word billows imply
that this refers to the ocean and not a small lake. To be able to travel on a
boat would traditionally demand skills; especially to be able to cross the
ocean. Being able to travel over the sea shows that the traditional stav
practitioners did not see themselves as confined by their geography.

Traveling
by boat was a venture that demanded resources, and it is a statement on where
the traditional stav practitioners would see themselves in society. A farmer (the
karl class) would perhaps never be able to cross an ocean by boat, and if a
farmer were able to travel on a boat it would be because he was accepted there
by the owner of the boat; therefor he would probably not make a bold statement
that he was able to ride the billows.

“staves are
done, by Heimdall´s sons” – ties the whole poem together. Staves are done is
the seventh knowledge described within the poem- seven is a key number within
stav. Staves refer to the staves that constructs the runes, and doing staves
refers to performing the rune stances; which is the most essential practise
within the stav tradition. This is essentially where the name stav derives
from.

To be able
to do all the varieties of the stances demands a lot of knowledge about the
runes and how the galders within the tradition is performed. Knowing the runes out
of a stav perspective demands knowledge beyond using the runes as letters.

“By
Heimdall´s sons”; stav is in essence an intellectual spiritual tradition devoted
to Heimdall. Heimdall is seen as the god of knowledge and education, and this
poem is about the expected knowledge of the traditional stav practitioner.

The
traditional stav practitioners claimed to be descendants of Heimdall, which can
come across as somewhat strange to a modern person. But it was quite common
that Scandinavian nobility claimed to descend from Norse deities, this was an
important aspect of the pre-Christian cult. During the middle ages they
actually had to make up how the deities related to Jesus; since people did not
want to abandon their claim to be related to Norse gods.

This does
not exclude anyone; out of a stav perspective we all descend from the deities;
it does not matter if we are aware of it or not. Anyone that follows the
teachings within stav will honour their relation to Heimdall; and strengthen
their bond to him. As a devoted student of stav I consider myself to be a son
of Heimdall; both spiritually and philosophically. Working with this tradition
will change you; it is just your ego that set the boundaries on how much you
are able to change.

To sum it
all up; the stav poem is a statement or a declaration. The poem describes people that
would be able to live and prosper in all the natural elements; they would be
able to utilize dogs, horses and falcons in the open landscape and in the forests.
They would be able to ski during the winters and hunt with an arrow and a bow.
They were able to travel the oceans. They had an intellectual and spiritual approach
to the myths through their connection to Heimdall.

Since I always like to work with the methods within the tradition, I constructed a bind rune that visualises the information in the poem. This bind rune was very helpful when I memorized the content of the poem. This bind rune shows how specifically you can use the runes within the stav tradition when you are aware of their associations.

The way
that we work with bind runes within the stav tradition is really similar to the
way that Snorri Sturluson describes how to work with verse in his Edda. This
part is amongst the most beneficial portions of Snorris work; out of a
spiritual perspective, yet most people seem to ignore these chapters.

When we
work with bind runes, we utilize the associations of the runes, and the mythological
relations and connections around the rune. Sometimes we also use counterparts and
opposites, very similar to how Snorri describes kennings. The Eddas work with
words, stav uses graphical methods to illustrate the mythology; but when I have
worked with it intensively I have noticed that it often enough ends up in the
same place.

The purpose
with both the poetry and the stav bind runes is to develop a very different way
to use our brain compared to how most modern people seems to think. It
essentially develops a very esoteric and spiritual way of thinking. Those who
is trained in this art will become aware of patterns and under laying
information. The student will be able to see things that is hidden to most
people. The only negative thing that I have experienced is; that the more I
develop this way of using my brain- the harder I find it to relate to modern
people.

How old is
the poem?

It is
basically impossible to date this poem with certainty; the poem consists of
fairly modern Norwegian words. Perhaps the poem has been linguistically
updated? Perhaps the poem is a newer construction following the old Norse traditions
of poetry?

But there
are parallels to this poem, and to find them we need to go far back; to the
preserved Norse literature. Within the poem Rigstula we find something very
similar when we come to Jarl, the personification of the jarl class. Just as
stav; Rigstula centres around Heimdall. Rigstula describes how Heimdall created
and educated all the classes except the herse class. According to stavs
philosophy Heimdall is still mainly the patron of the jarl class, since he is a
bearer and transferor of knowledge.

Rigstula, stanza
35:

To grow in
the house,
did Jarl begin;
Shields he brandished,
and bow-strings wound;
bows he shot,
and shafts he fashioned;
Arrows he loosened, and lances wielded,
Horses he rode, and hounds unleashed;
Swords he handled, and sounds he swam.

Rigstula
describes almost the same skills as described by the stav poem. There are two references
to spears and three to archery; if we regard these as redundant information this
poem actually describes seven skills just as the stav poem. But this verse does
not mention runes, it is addressed in the next stanza of Rigstula.

In the
Orkneyingers’ Saga, who describes the history of the jarls of Orkney; there is
a poem accredited to Kale Kolsson. He describes that he knows nine skills,
amongst them knowledge of the runes:

“Draughts
I play with open hand,
games and feats so skilful nine;
writing runes to me comes ready;
books I read and smith’s work furnish;
I can glide on snow-shoon swift;
doughtily I shoot and row;
Either stands at my behest,
sweep of harp or burst of song.”

This poem
is also very similar to the stav poem. Kale can play draught, which refers to
the ancient board game Tafl, similar to chess. Kale knows the runes, he reads
books, he can do smiting and ski. He can shoot a bow and he can row a boat. He
can play the harp and knows how to make poetry.

Altogether
Kale gives the impression of being a culturally achieved person. Which is
expected, he comes from the top level of society. Kale is one of the jarls of
Orkney, and he descended from the mythical jarls of Møre in Norway. The oral history
of stav connects stavs origin partly to the jarls of Møre.

No matter
if the stav poem is ancient or a more recent expression of someone’s
creativity; it shows how well stav follows Norse tradition. The poem is written
in an ancient form of verse that most modern people of Scandinavia have never
heard of. Most of the skills mentioned would not be seen as more than trivia to
a modern person; but to anyone living in Scandinavia hundreds of years ago it
would have been seen a statement of belonging to the nobility.

The stav
poem in Norwegian:

Hunder hisser,
hester temmer,
falker flyger;
på ski farer,
buer bender,
bølger rider;
staver setter,
Heimdalls sønner.