Ever thought that a Viking funeral would be a spectacular way to go? There’s been a quiet revolution happening in the funeral world, with more and more of us deciding we’d like something just a little more unique when it comes to our own funeral ceremony.
Tradition is important in the funeral industry, but a funeral director’s most important mission is to accommodate a bereaved family’s wishes. So, if you hanker after following the tradition of Viking funeral rituals, a good funeral director just may be able to help you achieve your dream – with a little artistic license, that is.
Photo by Flavius Les on Unsplash
Historians and Hollywood don’t always see eye to eye when it comes to recounting history, so a personalised funeral could set the stage for your very own interpretation of a Norse-style funeral or Viking memorial ceremony.
After her boyfriend Patric Salo died of a brain tumour, Jenny Gilleece fulfilled his dying wish for a Viking funeral with a memorial ceremony by the sea in Ireland. She arranged for a blacksmith to forge some of Patric’s cremation ashes into a Viking hammer, with the rest of his cremains placed on a meter-long (3.2 feet) replica Viking ship, set spectacularly alight on the sea.
“Usually what happens with ashes is that people put them in urns on the mantlepiece,” Jenny told the Irish Independent.
"And to be honest, Patric sitting up on a mantle didn't seem very Patric to me.”
Fans of television’s Vikings, The Last Kingdom and even Game of Thrones might well agree.
How a well-to-do woman may have been laid out for an Old Nordic funeral in the 10th Century
Viking ship funerals were reserved for the final voyage of the greatest warriors, but in most cases, Viking ships were buried rather than burned. Attempting a full cremation on water these days would be foolhardy, illegal and, experts who understand cremation have also concluded, unlikely to be a success.
In most cases, an urn containing the already-cremated remains of the Viking chieftain would be placed inside the ship before it was buried.
A Viking ship was the ultimate in grave goods, but in Old Norse culture, many ordinary people went to their grave with their most treasured personal belongings and tools of their trade. While some people were buried, it was also common for those who died to be cremated on a blazing funeral pyre before their ashes were placed in an urn and interred in their grave alongside their possessions.
Already-cremated ashes were often a significant part of the burial and funeral rites of Vikings. As our guide to cremations says, cremation has been the preferred funeral choice of the majority of people in the UK since the 1960s, providing bereaved families with many options for memorialising their loved one with a special ashes casket or scattering ceremony.
A Viking-style memorial service could be a special way to mark the life of someone you loved, after their funeral at a modern-day crematorium.
It’s possible to buy miniature Viking-ship funeral ashes caskets, as well as stone and ceramic urns for cremains with Viking ship motifs.
This Viking ship is a full size coffin made bespoke by Crazy Coffins.
You may think it is fitting to scatter some of your loved one’s remains in the sea, or, in the absence of a bow and flaming arrow, consider shooting their remains to the skies in a shower of memorial fireworks.
At a Viking funeral, you could even request mourners follow a dress code. Custom and themed funerals are becoming increasingly popular, so it’s not uncommon for people to be asked to wear a specific colour or dress accordingly.
Some funeral homes have even gone one step further and obliged bereaved families by following the dress code. In South Lanarkshire,in 2016, funeral director David Young led Andrew Strachan’s Star Wars funeral cortege dressed, at the bereaved family’s request, as Darth Vader.
Funeral food is an important part of many funeral ceremonies today. It’s believed that Vikings may have waited seven days between someone’s death and burial, before they held a funeral feast.
On important feast days, guests would eat roast meats, wheaten bread, cheese, fruits and nuts. They would raise a glass of ale or mead made from fermented honey to the memory of the departed. Drinking horns are optional – wealthy Vikings had glass beakers, while it’s believed many ordinary people would have had flat-bottomed wooden vessels easier to set down on the table.
The Vikings believed the bravest warriors who died in battle would feast in the great hall of the gods, Valhalla, while good people who did not die in battle would journey to the holy mountain of Helgafjell.
These days, it may be a little difficult to find a fluent speaker of Old Norse to conduct a Viking funeral service, but there are celebrants who specialise in leading personalised funeral services for people who observe pagan traditions or who were of no religious faith, but would like something meaningful.
Taking part in a loved one’s funeral ceremony can be a healing comfort for loved ones, who may read a poem or write a eulogy at a modern or traditional funeral service. You’ll discover many evocative poetry readings in Old Norse online, as well as funeral music inspired by Viking myth and legend.
Scholar Jackson Crawford demonstrates how to pronounce Old Norse words and poems in his YouTube channel for Vikings fans. You’ll also find English translations of many heroic Old Norse poems and sagas online and in quality bookstores that may be inspirational and fitting for the funeral reading of someone who was a Viking warrior at heart.
- Discover how archaeologists are working with end-of-life care specialists in Continuing Bonds, a project exploring how historic funeral rites and rituals could hep us talk more openly about death, dying and bereavement. And if you're looking for more information on cremation if you're planning a funeral, we have a guide to choosing and urn.