THE DOG OF THE VIKING

There were several types of dogs used in the Viking Age.  The great popularity of dogs as pets, working animals and as companions is shown by the frequency with which they are found in graves, buried along side their masters.  Frigga, wife of Ooinn and goddess of marriage and fidelity, was believed to travel in a chariot drawn by a pack of dogs, perfect symbols of fidelity and faithfulness.

The basic Norse dog is a Spitz type animal, produced by interbreeding of the native arctic wolf with southern domestic dogs as early as the Neolithic, based on skeletal remains as much as 5,000 years old.  There are many modern breed of dogs which have without doubt derived from Viking Age Spitz type dogs.  Although these breeds may well date to the Viking Age or before, a great many were not recognised as formal 'breeds' until the 1800's or afterwards.

In Scandinavian belief, the dog is the guardian of the underworld, and it is speculated that one reason for including dogs in Viking Age burials was to provide a guide for the deceased to lead them to the underworld.  Prior to the Viking Age, dogs both large and small were found in great numbers in the Vendel graves in Sweden. By the Viking Age, fewer dogs were found in each grave. The Oseberg ship burial contained the remains of four dogs to accompany the women buried there. The Gokstad ship burial contained six dogs buried with their elderly master. Other Viking Age graves in Denmark, Brittany, the Isle of Man and elsewhere containing the remains of dogs show that the custom of sending a person's dogs with them to the afterlife was widespread throughout the Viking World.

The years from 1825 to 1845 are known in Norse folk tales as the Wolf Period. From Finland and Sweden they came, hungry and vicious, hunting in packs, leaving the stench of death in their wake. Neither game nor livestock were safe from these ravenous hordes. In one valley alone, 15 horses were lost to the wolves. Outlying farms were abandoned and no one risked venturing out in the night air for fear of the wolves.

The Elkhound was not merely the hunting partner of the men of the valleys, he was the guardian of hearth and home. Even though armoured with a fearful spiked collar of iron, many Elkhounds found their end, ripped apart and devoured by the wolf invaders. Wolf night or Graabine as it was soon to be become known occured on February 14, 1842. The Elkhounds of the Norderhove valley were renowned for their skill and fearlessness against the largest moose. In this exalted company stood out Fanarok the Fearless, bravest of the Elkhounds in the valley. His young brother Purven, the runt of the litter, was adored and protected by Fanarok. A terrible fate would befall any who dared to injure Purven.

During that night Fanarok was locked in the barn to protect the cattle from the wolves. Somehow Purven had been left outside. Little time passed before the wolves arrived. Spying the easy prey of a lone Elkhound the pack descended on Purven. Inside the barn Fanarok could hear the ripping of fur and flesh as his beloved little brother piteously called out to him. Frantically Fanarok clawed at the door that separated him from his dying brother. Soon the cold night air became still again, little Purven was no more. When Fanarok was finally let out all that was left of his brother were small bits of fur and crimson stains in the snow, illuminated by the brightness of the full moon. Fanarok let out a terrible howl of grief for his dead brother and vengeance for those had done this. From farm to farm throughout the valley the Elkhounds came to Fanarok's call.

Silhouetted by the moonlight, Fanarok stood alone on frozen Lake Juveren. Eight of his cohorts stood close by in the swamp waiting. Again with the vision of yet more easy prey the wolves gathered, but this time things would be different. Darting and dodging as he had many times against the largest of moose, Fanarok broke through the circling wolves. Not to be denied a fresh feast they gave chase, the pack was lead to the eight waiting Elkhounds. Even against the larger and more numerous wolves Fanarok and his companions fought relentlessly and without fear. The Elkhounds tore into the wolves, flashing teeth, ripping flesh from neck and hind quarters. The wolves had met their match. The sounds of the battle alerted the men of the village, they came with axes, guns and swords, anything they could use against these terrible foes. A settling of accounts was to be in order for villager and Elkhound alike.

The battle was joined. The smaller but more agile Elkhounds tore into the wolves. Darting and weaving they manouvered for an opportunity to strike. As fearsome wounds were inflicted on the wolves their writhing bodies filled the air with the smell of blood. More wolves arrived, attracted by the grim scent. Man and dog stood side by side, as they had for millenia, working together against their common foe. After an hour of this carnage the night invaders ere vanquished. The few left tried to escape but were dispatched by newly arriving Elkhounds and villagers circling the frozen lake.

The morning sun revealed the carcasses of 27 wolves, the wolf plague was over. Purven had been avenged and the valley was peaceful and safe once again. The men of the Norderhove valley would stay warm that winter in the coats of their foes....