In a previous post, I explored the fake funeral of Ragnar Lothbrok that serves as the apogee of Vikings Season 3. Once the coffin was made and Ragnar’s ‘corpse’ placed within, the wooden container was raised to be held within the king’s tent ahead of the funeral.
Touching and Talking to the Coffin
The lying in state of Ragnar’s coffin sets up a powerful dynamic. Three key characters speak to the coffin, touching it with their hands, they heads, revealing their feelings towards Ragnar believing him to be dead. Lagertha, Rollo and Floki each speak to Ragnar in term. First, Lagertha touches the coffin as if it were her former-husband’s body, whispering to it with her ear touching its side.
Then we have Rollo, Ragnar’s brother, sitting and leaning the back of his head against it, again acting as if it were a living body.
Finally, we have Floki himself, expressing his anger against the clinker-built ‘boat’ of his own making, talking to it of his love and jealousy but stopping short of confessing he had slayed Aethelstan himself.
This section of Episode 10 of Vikings Season 3 really gets one thinking about the mnemonic and social power of coffins as staging interactions between the living and the dead in terms of visual and tactile dialogues. The making of the coffin and installing the body in the coffin were key stages. Subsequently, the handling and engagement with the coffin might have been important funerary stages too, as the coffin is a focus of prayer, contemplation and conversation with the dead.
These points, inspired by the portrayal of Ragnar’s funeral, certainly chimes with my recent argument published in the book Early Medieval Stone Monuments, that tombs and coffins with architectonic dimensions were intended to set up the allusion of spaces within which the dead are perceived to reside. The idea of the tomb as residence is replete in later Norse literature and thus, it is plausible that these dialogues with the dead reflect in some fashion widespread practices across Early Medieval Europe within Christian and pagan mortuary practices.