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Pre-Christian Religions of the North: Sources

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A rangle is a type of sliding rattle which are primarily discovered in Norway, with the exception of five rattles which are located just outside of the modern Norwegian boarders (Sweden and Finland).  A rangle is basically made of a large iron ring with smaller rings attached to it, which consequently work as sound rings.  There is also a handle or staff connected to the main ring, which sometimes has a shaped hook on the end. The sound-rings can be oval or circular and occasionally there are another set of smaller rings linked on the sound rings which creates another, totally different sound effect, like a bell or chime.

Rangler are mostly found in male graves, there are about 250 examples spread all over middle and southern Norway, only five have been found outside of Norway in northern Sweden and Finland. Twelve of the rattles are from female graves, 138 are from male graves and the rest are undetermined. There is a significant difference in ratio between the two genders which indicates that the rattles may have something to do with social status and are possibly connected to the Old Norse god Freyr and the cult of fertility.

Archaeologists often present these rattles as peculiar or mystical items because of their lack of obvious functionality. Possibly the most famous rattle ever found is the Oseberg rattle which was discovered protruding from the infamous dragon-heads which have often been classified as mystical objects by archaeologists (the rattle was fastened to a rope which again was put into one of the dragon’s mouth). The Norwegian archaeologist Anne Stine Ingstad has interpreted this as a connection to ritualistic procession where the rattles would have been carried together with the dragon heads. The Oseberg rattles are in fact slightly different than the others finds because they are ornamented, inlayed with gold and silver, and the larger of the two have exceptionally many soundings.

Rattles have been referred to in connection with pagan ritualistic practices in written sources. Saxo Grammaticus wrote Gesta Danorum during the early 1200s and wrote about jingling or rattling in correlation with the worship of Freyr.

Ubi cum filiis Frø septennio feriatus ab his tandem ad Haconem Daniae tyrannum se contulit, quod apud Upsalam sacrificiorum tempore constitutus effeminatos corporum motus scaenicosque mimorum plausus ac mollia nolarum crepitacula fastidiret. Unde patet, quam remotum a lascivia animum habuerit, qui ne eius quidem spectator esse sustinuit.

He went into the land of the Swedes, where he lived at leisure for seven years' space with the sons of Frey. At last he left them and betook himself to Hakon, the tyrant of Denmark, because when stationed at Uppsala, at the time of the sacrifices, he was disgusted by the feminine gestures and the clapping of the mimes on the stage, and by the unmanly clatter of the bells. Hence it is clear how far he kept his soul from lasciviousness, not even enduring to look upon it.

Terry Gunnell connects this passage to leikar, the costumed rituals connected to the cult feasts that took place in Uppsala during the Viking Age.

However the rangler have been interpreted as part of a trace for carts or sledges, particularly by archaeomusicologists Cajsa Lund who performed a successful experimented using the rattles on a replica of the Oseberg wagon. Jan Pedersen and Cajsa Lund declare that it cannot be a coincidence that so many of the rattles are found in graves which contain riding equipment; saddles, bridles and mounts.


Saxo Grammaticus, Gesta Danorum Danmarksshistorien, translated by Peter Zeeberg. Copenhagen: Gads Forlag, 2005.

Saxo Grammaticus, The Danish History of Saxo Grammaticus, translated by Oliver Elton, 1905. London: Forgotten Bokks, 2008.

Saxo Grammaticus, Gesta Danorum, Det Kongelige Bibliotek,

Universitetetsmuseenes Arkeologiske Gjenstandssamlinger, Oldsakssamlingen,

Christensen, Arne, Ingstad and Myhre, 1993. Oseberg Dronningens Grav. Vår Arkeologiske Nasjonalskatt i Nytt Ly, Oslo: Schibsted.

Gunnell, Terry, 1995. The Origins of Drama in Scandinavia. Cambridge: D. S. Brewer

Lund, Cajsa, 1975. ’Paa Rangel’, Årbok, Stavanger Museum 84, 45-120

Universitetetsmuseenes Arkeologiske Gjenstandssamlinger, Oldsakssamlingen, (accessed 13.09.2012)

Cajsa Lund, ’Paa Rangel’, Årbok, Stavanger Museum 84 (1975), 87

Cajsa Lund, ’Paa Rangel’, Årbok, Stavanger Museum 84 (1975), 105

Christensen, Arne E., Ingstad, Anne Stine and Myhre, Bjørn, Oseberg Dronningens Grav. Vår Arkeologiske Nasjonalskatt i Nytt Lys (Oslo: Schibsted, 1993), 137

Ibid, 136-137

Saxo Grammaticus, Gesta Danorum, Det Kongelige Bibliotek, (14.09.2012)

Saxo Grammaticus, The Danish History of Saxo Grammaticus, translated by Oliver Elton (London: Forgotten Books, 2008), 232, book 6

Terry Gunnell, The Origins of Drama in Scandinavia (Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 1995), 76

Cajsa Lund, ’Paa Rangel’, Årbok, Stavanger Museum 84 (1975), 61


Gesta ch. 6 (VI)



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(Contributed by Hilde Nielsen.)



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Text sections: [not skaldic]


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