Photo of Bluebell Woods in Sussex Photo of Bluebell Woods in Sussex

Raven-Floki and the Wayfinding Birds of Old

Floki raven

Another frosty morning and the birds seem particularly active. Whenever I see dark birds in a cold setting I am reminded of the Raven-Floki tale.

Floki Vilgerdarson was a Norwegian Viking and one of the first of his countrymen to set foot on Iceland. One method he used of wayfinding was to take ravens with him and then release them. By watching their behaviour, Floki was able to divine the proximity and direction of land.

According to legend, he released three birds, the first went nowhere, the second took off and then returned to his ship, but the third raven flew on ahead. Floki followed this raven and found the cold island he had set out for. After settling there, Floki climbed to the top of a mountain from where he could see a fjord filled with ice on the other side. He gave the new land a name, ‘Isafjordur’, which became our Iceland.

Floki’s method was part of a long nautical tradition of using birds to find land. One that most people will have come across, perhaps without realising it, as it appears in universal religious texts going back over two millennia. Noah sent out a raven and a dove from his ark and there are references to the same method in a Buddhist text from the 5th century BC.