Höskuld´s cloak and the “social skin”

by Michele Hayeur Smith

There is a passage in Njál´s Saga, which explicitly  suggests that in the Norse cultural world, weaving cloth was connected to birth, life, fate, and a person’s  being and essence. Here is the passage from the saga:

She took out the cloak which Flosi had given Höskuld and which he was wearing when he had been killed she had preserved all his blood in it. She returned to the hall with the cloak and quietly went up to Flosi. Flosi had eaten and the food had been cleared from the table. Hildigunn flung it over Flosi and the blood clots showered all over him. The she said: “you gave this cloak to Höskuld, Flosi and now I am giving it back to you. He was killed in it. I call God and all good men to witness that I charge you by all the powers of your Christ and your manhood and bravery to avenge the wounds he had on his body when he was killed or else be called a nithing, and contemptible creature, by all men” (Njal’s Saga in Miller 1983, 181).

If you are wondering what nithing is-  Hildigunn threaten Flosi him that he will be killed or called a nithing. Nithing, possess the cognate, “nið´. The concetp of nið is particular to the male Norse conceptual universe and to male notions of masculinity. By accusing Flosi of being called a nithing , Hildigunn is questionning his masculinity as nið, or being made verbal nið, was in essence being accused of being unmannly possibly even a homosexual and these accusations were punishable by outlawry in the Icelandic and Norwegain law codes (Meulengracht Sørensen, 1983:17). According to Price (2002), nið could be communicated in more than one way, verbally as described as trénið, which signifies wooden nið the latter being runes carved in wood to actual sculptures depicting men engaged in sexual acts (Price, 2002,211), or occasionally in the saga literature one will find descriptions of nit poles when the head of a mare was placed on the top of a pole and pointed in the direction of the accused. A man accused of niðingr was the most powerful insult in Viking Age warrior ideology (Price, 2002, 212).

Anyways back to Flosi and Höskuld.. I love the fact that they believed cloth and garments became a part of your being, so that the idea of sharing garments or putting someone else clothes on could potentially  harm you… its the power of the cloth.. so I bought some red silk.. this is to symbolize Höskuld´s blood..DSC_8486 I was going to add sequins but like the cloth idea better as it also ties into the importance of red cloth in the sagas.. gifts from kings were often red silk garments. Silk was also the finest cloth you could find and interred only with the wealthiest.

I am going to fastened these strips of silk to the cloth not unlike the way feldur was made.I think this is the start of a series of textiles  I will be making based around these ideas and themes…. more to come!

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