The Raven Banner

For all of my many years of accumulated knowledge on social media, #HellOfABird was trending yesterday on Twitter, and for what reason I know not.

But whilst I'm not quite sure why #HellOfABird was trending, I do know that today is #FolkloreThursday on Twitter, where people are encouraged to share mythological and legendary tales!

What I do know, though, is that a certain bird plays an important role in the Norse history and mythology of Caithness. It even features on our regional flag...

Above: The flag of Caithness, featuring the raven (top right). The blue represents the sea, the black represents the dark nights, the yellow represents the pleasant uranium glow that most of us Caithnessians have, which is entirely natural, I assure you.T

The boat in the top right is a galley, which actually used to be a Viking longship in the old county emblem. The cross also ties into Norse links, sharing similarities with the Scandinavian, Shetland and Orkney flags. Vikings unite!

It's the raven. Why is that?

Well, you see, Caithness has a close connection to Vikings and the Norse. The raiders/ invaders/ settlers - however you want to portray them - were prevalent across the north and western coasts of Scotland, and their presence was keenly felt in Caithness. This is clearly evident through historical, archaeological and place-name evidence:

Above: The map of Caithness, from 'The Raven Banner: A Guide to Viking Caithness' by Ian Cassells. Map by Jennifer Law (1992)

And of course plenty of broch-related archaeology, including the 'Viking' burial at Castletown Broch, found in 1786, which turned up a brilliant pair of a Scandinavian-style brooches:

Top: Castlehill Broch, and Above, one of the Scandinavian brooches

Or what about the fantastic Thing's Va Broch? You can read more about why this was Caithness' version of parliament on our blog post, or about our excavations nearby in 2017/18 here.

Above: Thing's Va Broch by Highland Aerial Views

Now, the raven is an important part of Norse mythology.

One of the tales from Norse Mythology is that Huginn (from Old Norse "thought") and Muninn (Old Norse "memory" or "mind") are a pair of ravens that fly all over the world, Midgard, and bring information to the god Odin.

Archaeological Activity Interval #1: Make your own Huginn and Muninn!

Want to make your own version of #Odin's ravens? Simple! Use a paper plate black paint or black cardboard for the body, white cardboard and black paint or black cardboard for the wings, paper fasteners, googly stick on eyes or white paper and black paint for the eyes and white paper and yellow paint paper for the beak and legs. Et voila...or as the Norse might say, vær så god!

Above: Muninn. Or Huginn. You decide.

Anyway...

The raven banner was a standard used by the Jarls (Earls) of Orkney and Caithness.

According to the Orkneyinga Saga, written in the 13th century, the Jarl Sigurd the Stout (Sigurðr) had a banner made for him by his mother...there was a bit of a caveat with the banner though. And when I say bit, I mean...I mean a fatal curse.