Friday, November 30, 2012

Ancient Burial Mounds of Sweden: My Visit to the Mounds of Solleron

On more than one level, I'm still processing the trip I took to my ancestral homeland of Sweden this past summer. It was beautiful, mysterious, intriguing, expansive. This is, perhaps, why I have been slow to write of it. Quick to post photos, (click here to view the album), slow to write of it. My father's entire family hails from Russia, but my mother's father's family came over from Sweden, and her mother's family came over from Finland, thus making me 50% Scandinavian. People often ask me about my name - Signe is in fact, a Scandinavian name.

So when the opportunity came up to visit our good friends Brad and Cecilia in Stockholm, we jumped at it. Top on my list was to sleep or hike near some ancient burial mounds, and lucky for me, Eric is as interested in ancient places as I am, so we planned a 3 day side trip up to the area of Dalarna, and more specifically, to a tiny island called Solleron. The true writing of the experience isn't done justice in the time I can allot to a blog entry, but I do hope to tell the whole tale in a proper way someday.

Road trip!
Swedish countryside
I'd come across Solleron on our Lonely Planet guidebook. Two different sites on the island together accounted for somewhere between 100 and 150 different viking graves - the graves themselves date from 800 -1050 AD. Historians believe that the place name (Solleron) indicates that the place was perhaps dedicated to sun worship of some kind. For over 250 years, Solleron was an incredibly holy, sacred place where the dead were laid to rest.  Farmers living in the area had discovered the graves quite accidentally when clearing land for farming, and had come together to preserve them - many of the goods discovered, swords, jewelry, ended up in Swedish museums. But there are still several mounds that have not yet been excavated. And there was a 3 km trail that wound through the sites we could hardly wait to visit.

The trip from Stockholm to Solleron on lake Siljan, was only about four hours or so, and the scenery was all fields and grey skies and brick red painted farm houses, green, green trees and pools of water where river met land. At long last, the road narrowed and we found ourselves pulling up to the open air museum where the walk began. Pamphlets in 3 languages were stocked nearby, and we grabbed one, changed into our hiking shoes to combat the muddy fields, and took off on our journey. The humps in the land instantly reminded me of was the strange raises I'd noticed near Stone Henge in England - many of which, according to tour guide Peter Knight, were grave sites themselves.

The museum wasn't open, but we explored the 18th & 19th century farmstead buildings, complete with a replica of a Viking Long Boat that had been discovered nearby in an archeological dig.
Exploring the open air museum

As we started our walk, I spotted the 1st grave site right away. "Eric, look! That's a mound!"
"I don't think so," he said. What a Doubting Thomas. We looked at our map, and sure enough, I was right. (I love you, Eric, but..IN your FACE!) I have a sixth sense when it comes to details of ancient places, and I have yet to be wrong. To his credit, if you haven't seen burial mounds before, it looks like a clump of trees on a pile of earth and rocks. This is because it is very, very old. And you have to remember that the actual hight of the mound would have been much taller - much soil has deposited on top of it in the passing centuries.

The first mound. Rock cairns nearly make it
 look like little more than field rubble to an untrained eye. 
 I was a kid on Christmas morning spotting the next site, this one with an undeniably atmospheric evergreen sprouting from it. I couldn't brush aside the feeling that the tree was somehow another manifestation of the person who had been buried there, names and identities long lost in the annals of history. Somewhere along the way, my blood line had mingled with theirs, and here I was, a walking manifestation in my own way, too, of who they had been and who had come before. We moved from site to site, the mystery of it all so overwhelmingly intoxicating. Who had been buried there? Who had laid them to rest? How had they lived their life? How had they died? What goods had they been buried with to accompany them into the next world? What deeds had they done? Had their death been mourned or secretly celebrated? Most of all, what had they looked like, what things did they hate about life and who had they loved?
A much clearer mound.
Note the gorgeous tree that's grown on it.
Another mound, with the edge of a second
in the left foreground. 

The forests of birch on Solleron
 We walked for a few hours. I soaked it all in. I saw stands of birch trees that reminded me of my childhood in Enfield, New York. There was a subtle feeling of home, though my feet had never before touched these foreign shores. But there would be no answers to my questions.

A fern covered mound in the backyard of a home on Solleron.
The man who owned the house (now deceased) was one of the
biggest advocates of protecting the area. 

Three more graves (and many more) lie un-excavated. 
I didn't want our time on Solleron to end. As it always does, civilization called, with its necessities of food, and a dry place to camp away from the clouds of mosquitoes that were starting to track us like the blood thirsty savages they are. But we saved the best for last.
At the end of the trail, an ancient pagan holy well. Votive offerings of gold, silver, and other prized possessions had been found there. I stared into its waters longing to feel that ancient ancestral magic and realized for the first time that there was nothing more to feel on Solleron except for a feeling of peace, peace, peace. Subtle, quiet, cloaked in peace.

The ancient well on Solleron 
There would be no answers to my questions on that day, but I hoped that answers will unveil themselves on another. I've come to think that perhaps it's the being in places that matters most. If we're lucky, a connection is forged between us and the spirit of a place. From that moment on, exploration can continue from just about anywhere. Perhaps one of the biggest challenges of being a lover of antiquity is to let the past rest peacefully, even when you are longing more than anything, to unearth it. This year on Samhain, I did a small ceremony to honor my ancestors. (Courtesy of Raven Keyes. I posted it on my Facebook page.) As I called in the four directions, when I came to the North, I felt the undeniable presence of my Scandinavian ancestors, going back to the beginning of their time. I asked for their help and guidance in days to come, as I moved forward with life and my work and career. I asked to come to know them, in whatever ways I could. I left an apple out, cut into slices, and some honey, in remembrance of those who had come before. And all that I felt was peace, peace, peace.

Looking into the ancient well. 


  1. This reminds me of why I read Faery Tale twice!

  2. This reminds me of how lucky I feel to have such amazing and supportive readers! : -)

  3. Mounds have interested me for a long time. A magical trip, Signe. Thank you.

  4. I hope you do write more about this some day, because it sounds like a wonderful trip. I loved what you wrote: "Perhaps one of the biggest challenges of being a lover of antiquity is to let the past rest peacefully, even when you are longing more than anything, to unearth it." So very true, because part of being a lover of history is the chase--the research--and is hard to let go of!

  5. Hey Signe, thanks for your inspiring and deeply spiritual tale of the mounds of Solleron. I'm currently in Sweden and hope to visit the place. Jogi