Many people still believe the Middle Ages were a prudish period, during which the Church forbade all romance and sexuality. And it must be said, the Church tried… but didn’t quite manage! People in the Middle Ages could be pretty public and explicit about their love life.
Take the Vikings. These Scandinavian warriors had a habit of putting up runestones along the roads, in which they would carve messages to be read by passers-by. Usually they had pretty decent things to say: for example, they asked for a saint’s blessing, indicated borders or honoured deceased husbands or sons. (An interesting case is a runestone near Eggeby, where a mother named Ragnelf asks God to treat her son Anund’s soul “better than he deserves”.)
But some rune messages are… different.
In The Edge of the World, Michael Pye writes about rune sticks from the 12th and 13th century which wouldn’t stand out on the average bathroom door. For example, a Viking wrote:
I love that man’s wife so dearly that fire seems cold to me. And I am that woman’s lover.
That’s a story I want to hear more about! Or what about this one:
Love me, I love you Gunnhild. Kiss me. I know you well.
Was Gunnhild convinced by this request for affection? Did she even know the desperate writer so well? We’ll never know, unfortunately. Another man was definitely successful, however, because he wrote:
Ingebjörg loved me while I was in Stavanger.
… I’m pretty sure ‘loved’ is supposed to be a euphemism here.
But the naughtiest – well, let’s just say, raciest – of all found rune inscriptions is the Bryggen inscription formally known by the unsexy name of B011. This poetic piece of writing stems from the 13th century and can be translated as follows:
The cunt is delightful, may the prick fill it up.
Why would anyone write down such a message, you might wonder? Good question! It’s possible that a Viking was just sexting with his girlfriend, or exchanging vulgar messages with his friends. But there’s another option as well: perhaps this hopeful message was a somewhat crude attempt to produce a love charm. After all, runes were ascribed magical powers. What’s more, we also find inscriptions which are clearly written with magical attentions, such as this one:
I send to you,
I chant on you
a she-wolf’s lust and restlessness.
May restlessness come over you
and a jǫtunn’s fury
love me as you love yourself.
Well. I hope for this man that the object of his desire did indeed love herself!
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