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Arland Fiske: Kaare of Gryting

I paid little attention to "Kaare of Gryting" (pronounced GRIT-ing) when I first read Snorri Sturluson's Sagas of the Norse Kings. It wasn't until I visited my cousin Kaare Rogstad in Orkdal, that I became interested in this little known king. Cousin Kaare, the Sogneprest" (head pastor) of the valley, showed me a Viking pillar with an historical marker by his parsonage that remembers a battle fought over a thousand years ago. It took place on the fields behind the farm buildings owned by the church.

When I got back from Norway, I took another look at what Snorri had written. It so happened that another Norwegian king, Harald, decided to add to his harem a beautiful and proud princess named Gyda (Pronounced GEE-da). She sent word to Harald that she would not even be honorably married to him unless he was king over all Norway and not just a few counties. Up to that time Norway had many kings, each ruling over a small area.

The refusal of the young maiden challenged Harald and he made a vow to the pagan gods that he would not cut his hair until he had brought all Norway under his rule. One of the first places he attacked was Orkdal where Kaare of Gryting was king. Most of the Orkdal soldiers were killed, but he spared Kaare on condition that he would serve Harald. This seemed better to Kaare than to share the fate of his soldiers.

It took Harald ten years to fulfill his vow and his hair was pretty long when he went to the barber for a trim. When his hair was sheared, the barber said "haarfager" ("finehair"). That was a safe thing to say. Harald established the Norwegian dynasty that still lives on today in King Harald V.

Harald appointed Kaare an "enforcer" to collect taxes. It turned out to be very profitable for him and he became an even more important man than he had been before.

Snorri told how Kaare opposed the efforts of King Haakon the "Good" to make Norway Christian. He was one of eight men who vowed to root out the Christian faith in Norway and to force the king to sacrifice to the pagan gods.

Years later, when King Olaf Trygvasson forced Christianity on all Norwegians, Kaare was still a power in the community. Olaf threatened to sacrifice him along with some of their leaders to the gods "for peace and for a fruitful season."

The result was that all of them consented to be baptized into the Christian faith. The pagan gods had few martyrs. From Orkdal, King Olaf went to Trondheim where he smashed the image of Thor and offered the farmers the choice of conversion or battle. They chose baptism and Olaf took many of their sons hostages so they would not relapse back into paganism.

The old name of the present "Prestegaard" (literally "pastor's farm" or "parsonage") is still called Gryting. It is a peaceful place today and has some good farm land around it. Cousin Kaare was a very gentle man and was highly respected in that part of Norway serving as the "Prosti," or Dean of the other pastors.

The days of conflict between the old gods and the "White Christ" are long past, but not forgotten. The record is written in stone.

Next Week: The Icebreaker "Fram."

ARLAND FISKE , a retired Lutheran minister who previously lived in Laporte and now lives in Texas, is the author of 10 books on Scandinavian themes.