This study attempts to interpret the symbols (a falcon “crowned” with a cross, a key, and a Riurikid bident) found on a newly discovered tenth-century trapezoidal pendant from Pskov. Aside from a handful of imitation dirham coins that carry identical images of the falcon, no other parallels of these symbols or their combination have yet been discovered. Based on various sources, it is argued that the pendant was jointly issued to a Rus’ administrator-revenue collector by Grand Princess Olga and her son Sviatoslav at the time of his minority but not prior to Olga’s administrative reforms in the late 940s, i.e., ca. 950. While the bident was Sviatoslav’s dynastic emblem (reserved for reigning male Riurikids), Olga’s authority over the realm and her minor son was represented by way of a key (latchlifter) and a falcon. The key carried legal and possibly religious symbolism of right over the domain, while the falcon represented religious as well as royal authority. But, both emblems can be connected with the goddess Freyja – the chief female divinity in the Nordic pantheon – and Olga adopted them as her symbols in ca. 950. Based on her choice of these symbols and other circumstantial evidence, it is contended that Olga was a devotee of the goddess and practiced her cult prior to her conversion to Christianity (i.e., she was a vǫlva). Indeed, it is possible that Olga was the supreme priestess of Freyja, or her close equivalent Slavic goddess Mokosh, for the Rus’ state prior to her stepping down from the position as regent and her official conversion to Christianity.
Th.S. Noonan“The Vikings in the East: Coins and Commerce,”Developments Around the Baltic and the North Sea in the Viking Age(The Twelfth Viking Congress) [Birka Studies vol. 3] eds. B. Ambrosiani H. Clarke (Stockholm: Birka Project for Riksantikvarieämbetet and Statens Historiska Museer 1994) 234-35; R.K. Kovalev “Circulation of Sāmānid Dirhams in Viking-Age Northern and Eastern Europe (Based on the Mints of Samarqand and al-Shāsh)” (in the press).
E. Lindberger“The Falcon, the Raven and the Dove. Some Bird Motifs On Medieval Coins,”Eastern Connections Part One: The Falcon Motifed. B. Ambrosiani [Birka Studies 5] (Stockholm: Riksantikvarieämbetet 2001) 70 72.
ShakhmatovRazyskaniia o russkikh letopisiakh11; PVL vol. I 516. On Rus’ qağans and the Rus’ qağanate see O. Pritsak The Origin of Rus’ vol. 1 [Old Scandinavian Sources other than Sagas] (Cambridge Mass.: Harvard University Press for the Harvard Ukrainian Research Institute 1981) 28; P.B. Golden “The Question of the Rus’ Qağanate” Archivum Eurasiae Medii Aevi 2 (1982): 77-107; T.S. Noonan “The Khazar Qaghanate and its Impact on the Early Rus’ State: The translatio imperii from Itil to Kiev” Nomads in the Sedentary World ed. Anatoly M. Khazanov and André Wink (Richmond: Curzon 2001) 76-102.
G. Halsall“Female Status and Power in Early Merovingian Central Austrasia: The Burial Evidence,”Early Medieval Europe5 (1995): 1-24; S. Chadwick Hawkes “The Dating and Social Significance of the Burials in the Polhill Cemetery” Excavations in West Kent 1960-1970 ed. B. Philp (Dover: Kent Archaeological Rescue Unit/The West Kent Border Archaeological Group 1973) pp. 195-6; Fig. 56: 547-8.
G.R. Owen-CrockerDress in Anglo-Saxon England Revised and Enlarged Edition (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press2004) 66-7 153-4; G.B. Brown The Arts in Early England. Saxon Art and Industry in the Pagan Period (New York: J. Murray 1915) 394-402.
N.G. Nedoshivina“Drevnerusskie amulety v vide miniatiurnikh predmetov byta i ikh rol’ v pogrebal’nom obriade” in Arkheologicheskii sbornik: Pogrebal’nyi obriad[Trudy GIM №93] (Moscow: Gos. istoricheskii muzei 1997) p. 81 Fig. 1: 9-12; p. 85; pp. 90-4.
Kolosova Miliutina“‘Bol’shoi kurgan’”120 124. Aside from the key the other objects that can be identified with some certainty are a sword; a ring; a hand; an anthropomorphic female (?) figure; a leg; and a zoomorphic figure. Swords very similar to this one have been found in Scandinavia and other Rus’ sites (e.g. Gnezdovo) and have been interpreted as symbols associated with Óðinn. The ring can rather easily be understood as a miniature representation of a strike-a-light or “fire-steel” usually interpreted as a symbol of life-giving and powers of purification through fire. The leg and perhaps the hand can be understood as votive gifts to the gods; see A.-S. Gräslund “Some Viking-age Amulets – the Birka Evidence” in Cultural Interaction Between East and West [Archaeology artifacts and Human Contacts in Northern Europe] eds. U. Fransson et al (Stockholm: Stockholm University Press 2007) 94-5. The hand may also be understood as a symbol of bounty; see T.A. Pushkina “Tri amuleta iz Gnezdova” Problemy arkheologii Evrazii (Moscow: Nauka 1991); G.L. Novikova “Skandinavskie amulety iz Gnezdova” Smolensk i Gnezdovo (Moscow: Nauka 1991) 182-6 195.
B.-M. Näsström“Freyja – a Goddess of Many Names,”The Concept of the Goddesseds. S. Billington and M. Green (London-New York: Routledge 1996) 56 72. For protective function and powers of Freyja and parallel divinities as “Mistress of the Household” see Davidson Roles of the Northern Goddess 124ff; Näsström Freyja 32.
P.-E. Wallen et al“Husfru,”Kulturhistorisk leksikon for nordisk middelalder7 (Copenhagen: Rosenkilde & Bagge 1979) 133-7; E. Gunnes Norges historie vol. 2 [Rikssamling og kristning 800-1177] (Oslo: Cappelen 1976) 299.
E. Arwill-Nordbladh“Nyckelsymbolik i järnålderns kvinnogravar,”Fornvännen85 (1990): 255-9. Examples from folklore regarding connections between keys and childbirth are also provided in Davidson Roles of the Northern Goddess 148-9.
B. SawyerThe Viking-Age Rune-Stones. Custom and Commemoration in Early Medieval Scandinavia (Oxford: Oxford University Press2003); idem. “Women as Bridge-Builders; The Role of Women in Viking-Age Scandinavia” in Peoples and Places in Northern Europe. 500-1600. Essays in Honour of Peter Hayes Sawyer eds. L. Wood and N. Lund (Woodbridge: Boydell Press 1991) 217-20 223; J. Jesch Women in the Viking Age (Woodbridge: Boydell Press 1991) 56. The situation was different when the woman’s dowry was concerned. According to the Kievan Rus’ law code the Pravda Rus’kaia (“Expanded Version”) a woman’s dowry remained her private property provided that she was single. If she married the dowry became part of the family property that could be used or invested for the common good of the household. In the event of a divorce or widowhood the dowry was to pass back to the woman while the rest of the property was to be distributed in accordance with the will of the husband. Otherwise the husband’s property was to be cared for by the widow unless she remarried until the children turned of age and were able to inherit it. See The Laws of Rus’ – Tenth to the Fifteenth Centuries tr. D.H. Kaiser (Salt Lake City: Charles Schlacks 1992) arts. 93 102-3 and 106 pp. 30-2. Also see E. Levin “Women and Property in Medieval Novgorod: Dependence and Independence” Russian History/Histoire Russe 10:2 (1983): 154-169.
T.T. AllsenThe Royal Hunt in Eurasian History (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press2006) 58-60 68-9; R.S. Oggins The Kings and Their Hawks. Falconry in Medieval England (New Haven: Yale University Press 2004); J. Cummins The Hound and the Hawk. The Art of Medieval Hunting (New York: St. Martin’s Press 1988) 187-234.
S. Sten M. Vretemark“Storgravsprojektet – osteologiska analyser av yngre järnålderns benrika brandgravar,”Fornvännen83 (1988): 145-56; T. Tyrberg “The Archaeological Record of Domesticated and Tame Birds in Sweden” Acta Zoologica Cracoviensia 45 (2002): 216-31; K. Jennbert “The Mania of the Time. Falconry and Bird Broaches at Uppåkra and Beyond” On the Road. Studies in Honor of Lars Larsson ed. B. Hårdh K. Jennbert D. Olausson [Acta Archaeologica Lundensa in 4º №26] (Lund: Tryckår 2007) 24-8; G. Akerström-Hougen “Falconry as a Motif in Early Swedish Art” Figura 19 (1981): 264-93; Hicks “The Birds on the Sutton Hoo Purse” 162-3.
V.I. Kulakov“Ptitsa-khishchnik i ptitsa-zhertva v simvolakh i emblemakh IX-XI vv.,”Sovetskaia arkheologiia3 (1988): 106-17; idem. “Birds as Companions of Germanic Gods and Heroes” Acta Archaeologica 75 (2004): 184-187; E.Iu. Novikova “Podveska s ptitsei iz Vladimirskikh kurganov. Opyt atrebutsii” Srednevekovye drevnosti Vostochnoi Evropy (Moscow: Gos. Istoricheskii Muzei 1993) 46-56; N.V. Eniosova “Azhurnye nakonechniki nozhen mechei X-XI vv. na territorii Vostochnoi Evropy” Istoriia i evoliutsiia drevnikh veshchei (Moscow: Izd-vo Moskovskogo universiteta 1994); Lindberger “The Falcon the Raven and the Dove” 29-54; B. Ambrosiani “The Birka Falcon” in Eastern Connections Part One 11-27; C. Hedenstierna-Jonson “Rus’ Varangians and Birka Warriors” in The Birka Warrior. The Material Culture of a Martian Society [Theses and Papers in Scientific Archaeology 8] (Stockholm: Stockholm University Press 2006) III 12-3.
S. Hamilton-Dyer“The Bird Resources of Medieval Novgorod, Russia,”Acta Zoologica Cracoviensia45 (2002): 104-6. The birch-bark text (№54) dates to the 1310s-1330s and lists hawks as items of tribute or taxes owed by certain individuals; see A.A. Zalizniak Drevnenovgorodskii dialect (Mocow: Shkola/ “Iazyki Russkoi Kul’tury” 2004) 565. It should also be noted that falcons were on occasion exported out of Novgorod westwards in the fourteenth-fifteenth centuries; see A.L. Khoroshkevich Torgovlia Velikogo Novgoroda v XIV-XV vekakh (Moscow: Nauka 1963) 158-9.
C. Behr“Do Bracteates Identify Influential Women in Early Medieval Kingdoms?”Kingdoms and Regionality. Transactions from the 49thSachsensymposium 1998 in Uppsala (Stockholm: Archaeological Research Laboratory 2001) 95-101; idem. “The Origins of Kingship in Early Medieval Kent” Early Medieval Europe 9 no. 1 (2000): 25-52.
Turville-PetreMyth and Religion of the North192-3; O. Sundqvist Freyr’s Offspring. Rulers and Religion in Ancient Svea Society [Acta Universitatis Upsaliensis] (Uppsala: Uppsala University Press 2002).
DavidsonRoles of the Northern Goddess106-113; idem. Myths and Symbols in Pagan Europe. Early Celtic and Scandinavian Religions (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press 1988) 117-8; A.S. Ingstad A.E. Christensen B. Myhre eds. Oseberg-dronningens Grav: vår arkeologiske nasjonalskatt i nytt lys (Oslo: Schibsted 1992) 166.
DavidsonRoles of the Northern Goddess99-124 145-147; Näsström Freyja 66-67 121ff; E.H. Højgård “‘Spinnesiden – ett uttryck bara for flittige hender?’” Viking 53 (1990) 102-116. For the Greco-Roman goddesses see below.
J. Holmboe“Nytteplanter og ugræs i Oseberfundet” in Osebergfundetvol. V eds. A.W. Brøgger H. Shetelig (Oslo: Distribuert ved Universitets oldsaksamling1927) 32-35. For interpretation of the burial as belonging to a vǫlva see Ingstad Christensen Myhre eds. Oseberg-dronningens Grav 240ff.
DavidsonGods and Myths of Northern Europe118-119; Näsström Freyja 64-66; DeBois Nordic Religions 125-128. DeBois (p. 128) explains the tradition in the following manner: “Raised above the human community on a platform the seiðr practitioner appears positioned to interact with both human and spirit worlds at the same time acting as a point of convergence between natural and spiritual realms.” It should be noted that miniature chairs made of metal mainly pendants-amulets have been discovered in Scandinavia; they have been associated with the cult of the vǫlur; see Harrison Svensson Vikingaliv fig. and discussion on p. 57. Others however have connected the chairs with Óðinn; see S.H. Fuglesang “Viking and Medieval Amulets in Scandinavia” Fornvännen 84 (1989): 16 with literature.
See for instanceEgil’s Saga (tr. H. Pállson and P. Edwards (London: Penguin1976) ch. 78 p. 203) which notes that after the death of her brother Þorgerðr says “I have had no evening meal nor will I do so until I go to join Freyja” (i.e. commit suicide). In another saga Sigruðr’s mother a “sorceress” wove and gave her son a magical banner that in her words brought victory to “the man it’s carried before but death to the one who carries it.” Her prophesy was fully fulfilled multiple times; see Orkneyinga Saga. The History of the Earls of Orkney tr. H. Pállson and P. Edwards (London: Penguin 1978) chs. 11-12 pp. 36-38. Also see Princess Freawaru (freoðuwebbe or “peace-weaver”) in Beowulf [I. 2020] and the poem Darraðarljóð in the Njáls Saga (tr. Njal’s Saga tr. M. Magnusson H. Pállson (London: Penguin 1960) ch. 157 pp. 349-51) in which one finds valkyries figuratively and literally weaving fate. On the issue of weaving fate Norns valkyries and Freyja see Davidson Roles of the Northern Goddess 117-19ff. Also see Harrison Svensson Vikingaliv 74 and Näsström Freyja 109-22.
See for instance H.M. Cam“The Legend of the Incendiary Birds,”English Historical Review31 (1916): 98-101; A. Stender-Petersen “Et Nordisk Krigslistmotivs historie” Edda 29 (1929): 145-64; idem. Die Varägersage als Quelle der altrussischen Chronik (Aarhus-Leipzig: Trautmann 1934) 127-55; J. de Vries “Normannisches Lehngut in der isländischen Königssagas” Arkiv för nordisk filologi 47 (1931): 51-79; H.R.E. Davidson The Viking Road to Byzantium (London: G. Allen & Unwin 1976) 19-21 215-16.
P. Sawyer“Markets and Fairs in Norway and Sweden Between the Eighth and the Sixteenth Centuries” in Markets in Early Medieval Europe. Trading and ‘Productive’ Sites 650-850eds. T. Pestell and K. Ulmschneider (Macclesfield: Windgather Press2003) 170-72.
DavidsonRoles of the Northern Goddess91-99; W. Burkert Greek Religion (Cambridge Mass.: Harvard University Press 1985) 140-42; Voyatzis “From Athena to Zeus” 144-45; K. Kerényi Athene: Virgin and Mother. A Study of Pallas Athene (Zürich: Spring Publications 1978) 7-13; S. Deacy Athena (New York: Routledge 2008); Gimbutas The Living Goddesses 157-58; M. Détienne “Le navire d’Athéna” Revue de l’histoire des religions 178:2 (1970): 133-77; idem. “The Sea-Crow” 16-42.
DavidsonRoles of the Northern Goddess112-13. It would be amiss not to note Minerva’s connection with keys (as Freyja) at this point as is evidenced by her figurine as key-bearer on a Roman key. http://www.historicallocks.com/en/site/hl/Articles/19-Keys-and-locks-from-Imperial-Rome/The-goddess-Minerva-as-a-key-bearer2/ [accessed June 15 2012].
L.S. KleinVoskreshenie Peruna. K rekonstrukstii vostochnoslavianskogo iazychestva (St. Petersburg: Evraziia2004) 245. Also see for a discussion of Mokosh’s equivalent in Slovene folksongs in V. Nartnik “Pogansko bogovje slovanskega vzhoda in zahoda v luči slovenskih ljudskih pesmi” Studia Mythologica Slavica 1 (1998): 61-73.
RybakovIazychestvo drevnikh slavian393. Also see Ivanits Russian Folk Beliefs 32-33 61. It should be noted that roosters were known to have been killed and tossed into fires (i.e. sacrificed) by women during spring festivities associated with the beginning of plowing; see W.R.S. Ralson The Songs of the Russian People 2nd ed. (London: Ellis & Green 1872) 396ff. Of course this information does not contradict but in fact supports the connection of chickens/roosters with the Mokosh’s fertility cult. Chickens were also carried in processions and eaten during weddings thus again underscoring connections with fertility and reproduction; see Afanas’ev Poeticheskie vozzreniia slavian na prirodu I 467. The ritual sacrifice (known as “cock executions”) of roosters during weddings appears to be a pan-Slavic rite connected with the cult of dead ancestors; see Veletskaia Simvoly slavianskogo iazychestva 139-40 190-1 257-60.
KleinVoskreshenie Peruna246; Rybakov Iazychestvo drevnikh slavian 388-9. It must be noted that as Mokosh the goddess Frigg (or Freyja’s doublet) has had long connection with the day Friday and indeed giving the weekday its name i.e. Old English Frigedæg and Old Frisian Fri(g)endei borrowed into Old Norse as Frjádagr. The same can be said about the association between Venus and Friday (dies Veneris) in Romance languages. See Turville-Petre Myth and Religion of the North 188. However the question of how why and when these divinities came to be tied to Friday is not only highly complex but also requires much more time and space than this article permits.