It is interesting how the myths of yesteryear, especially about women, are dismissed by male researchers. Perhaps, it is time to view the myths about powerful women of the past as more than just stories.
Myths have a basis of truth. Truth is not always that easy to determine, especially if these myths are viewed with a dismissive prejudice.
I am not sure if this English poet had this in mind when she wrote
“The gods die every day
but sovereign poems go on breathing
in a counter-rhythm that mocks
the frenzy of weapons, their impudent power.”
Denise Levertov‘s poem ART
The story of Lagertha is clouded in the mists of time. The History Channel’s The Vikings has given viewers a vivid portrait of the Danish Shieldmaiden (skjaldmær) as brilliantly portrayed by Canadian actress Katheryn Winnick.
Based on the scraps of information which have been passed down through the centuries, the Norse heroine was a complex woman. She was fearless and a match for any male warrior.
Her unusual love story with Ragnar demonstrates the layers of relationship in the Far North from the civilized, cultured Southern Europe. Women were subject to the rules and dogma of the universal church, and someone like Lagertha would have been an anomaly and not tolerated.
Male hierarchies do not appreciate strong women. Women who challenge male authority or male prominence in society are a danger to such hierarchies then and even now.
Lagertha had no issue in falling in love with Ragnar after he passed her tests of courage. They had a son Fridleif and two daughters who are not named.
It was typical not to have names recorded for daughters. Only sons seemed to be deserving of naming.
When Ragnar left, he was still bothered about how Lagertha had tested him to win her hand in marriage. Being away from such a powerful woman, he found “love” again and annulled his marriage.
This account made Lagertha the victim, the helpless female at the hands of her unfaithful husband. Perhaps, since her history was written by a male, Lagertha had no issue either in dissolving a marriage which would not have been allowed farther South under church’s control.
Her dissolution of marriage from an unfaithful husband agrees more with her shieldmaiden status. Women were not pitiful things in the far North.
Lagertha’s story is an important one. She emulates one of those sovereign poems.
When the “gods” have faded from memory, the stories of those women who made an indelible footprint in history will live to be told and retold. As it was then, so it will be today.
G. D. Williams © 2018
“The name Lagertha is the latinized version of the Nordic name Hlaðgerðr (Hladgerd) which is the combination of two words Hlað, meaning “lacework” or “headdress” and gerðr, meaning “protection” or “enclosure”. The other versions of the name include “Ladgerda”, “Ladgertha” and “Lathgertha”.
Lagertha was, according to legend, a Danish Viking shieldmaiden from what is now Norway, and the onetime wife of the famous Viking Ragnar Lodbrok (D. 840 or 865), Her tale, as recorded by the chronicler Saxo in the 12th century, may be a reflection of tales about Þorgerðr Hölgabrúðr, a Norse deity. Her name, latinized to Lathgertha by Saxo, probably derives from the Old Norse Hlaðgerðr (Hladgerd).