Eyvind Kelda

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Many Norse Pagans today honor Eyvind Kelda on May 6. Image by Roger Dixon/Dorling Kindersley/Getty Images

May 6 is celebrated by many Norse Pagans today as the day to honor Eyvind Kelda, also called Eyvind Kelve. According to Norwegian history, Eyvind Kelda refused to give up his Pagan beliefs and renounce his gods when King Olaf Trygvason was busily converting his country to Christianity. Around the year 995 c.e., King Olaf ordered Kelda to be tortured and eventually drowned, as a lesson to any Norwegian heathens who might be reluctant to embrace the king’s new faith.

There isn’t a lot of information about Evyind Kelda himself, but King Olaf was fairly important for his role in bringing Christianity to the Scandinavian countries. Although he was only king for a few years, he is believed to have built the first Christian church in Norway, and there is a statue in his honor in the city of Trondheim. Based on the stories that have survived through the centuries, it appears that Olaf rarely hesitated when it came to using violent means to force conversion.

According to the tales of the Heimskringla: The Chronicle of the Kings of Norway, one of the best known Norse sagas compiled by Snorri Sturluson around 1230 c.e., Olaf announced that once he had converted to Christianity, everyone else in his country needed to be baptized as well.

Although many Norwegians agreed, there were quite a few who refused, and Olaf asked that the dissenters be rounded up. This included those who were viewed by Christians as practitioners of magic – sorcerers, shamans and the like.

Olaf brought everyone to his great hall, and in keeping with the Norse tradition of hospitality, offered all of them lots of food and drink.

From the Heimskringla:

"Then the king proceeded to Tunsberg, and held a Thing, at which he declared in a speech that all the men of whom it should be known to a certainty that they dealt with evil spirits, or in witchcraft, or were sorcerers, should be banished forth of the land.

Thereafter the king had all the neighborhood ransacked after such people, and called them all before him; and when they were brought to the Thing there was a man among them called Eyvind Kelda, a grandson of Ragnvald Rettilbeine, Harald Harfager's son.

Eyvind was a sorcerer, and particularly knowing in witchcraft. The king let all these men be seated in one room, which was well adorned, and made a great feast for them, and gave them strong drink in plenty."

Once they had fallen asleep, he had his soldiers bar the doors, and they lit the hall on fire. Everyone inside died, except for Evyind Kelda, who managed to escape through a hole in the roof.

Eyvind, who was believed to be a powerful sorcerer, later managed to make his way to an island, along with other men who continued to believe in the old gods. Unfortunately, Olaf and his army happened to arrive there at the same time. Although Eyvind tried to protect his men with magic, once the mists and fog cleared, they were exposed and captured by Olaf’s troops.

"Eyvind clothed [his men] with caps of darkness, and so thick a mist that the king and his men could see nothing of them; but when they came near to the house at Ogvaldsnes, it became clear day. Then it went differently from what Eyvind had intended: for now there came just such a darkness over him and his comrades in witchcraft as they had made before, so that they could see no more from their eyes than from the back of their heads but went round and round in a circle upon the island.

"

Eyvind Kelda and his men were tortured, and then chained to a rock in the sea, where they drowned as the tide rolled in.

"[T]he king ordered these all to be taken out to a skerry which was under water in flood tide, and there to be left bound. Eyvind and all with him left their lives on this rock, and the skerry is still called Skrattasker."

Today, many Norse Pagans honor Eyvind Kelda on May 6, for his role as a Pagan martyr who refused to convert to the new religion.