Thursday, May 26, 2016

The true origins of the "Bog"/"Norse"/"X" chairs

Pennsic 064

If you have ever been to an SCA event, you've seen them. The chairs that many call Norse (or Viking if they have yet to be corrected). They are two planks, one whittled out a bit and inserted into the other forming a lopsided X. The photo above is from Pennsic in 2010 at my campsite in n24.  There are several such chairs around the firepit.

Like probably many of you, I just took for granted that they are period for a lot of reasons.  A) They are wood;  B) They are simple;  and C) There are a ton of them at any SCA event.  However, they are not period.  In fact, what they really are gave me quite a delightful giggle when I found out and I hope you love the irony too.


A question came up about the authenticity of the Norse chairs and I was curious as well - so, I took to searching for any information on them.

First, I found this "my-fingers-hurt-from-just-looking-at-it-but-it's-lovely" chair:
bog chair standing


The person posting the picture called it a bog chair so I searched for bog chairs. I know, it sounds a bit to basic but this is how I typically find things - just follow the rabbit down the hole.

I came across The Anglo Scandinavian Chronicle Blog and found an entry on the chairs from back in 2011.  In that, I found another important clue.

Simply put, there are no such chairs from the Viking Age in northern Europe. The chair, it has been conjectured, was introduced from Africa in the nineteenth century and became really popular in the early twentieth century when Boy Scouts began to manufacture and make them. All this is second hand and not even trustworthy second hand. Like folding stools with backs, they seem to have just popped up!



Okay, so I started to search African chairs and found...

African Chair


Tada! Something that looks like the "Norse" Chairs! Yay! So where is the humor in all this?

Well, when most people think of the Norse, or more commonly by the verb Viking (seriously, it ends in ING for a reason. You went a Viking. You weren't a Viking anymore than a mall rat today would be called a Shopping.) they think big burly bearded men with axes. Crazy, strong warriors who fight and drink and fight some more. They think "manly" men!

So what is it really? It's a birthing chair.

That's right, this style chair is not only not period for the SCA, it's also incredibly feminine! I am greatly amused at the irony.

African Birthing Chair

Notice in the picture above, there are four women carved into it with a cradle. From the auction page:
An intricately hand carved vintage African birthing chair. The characters include a bee, snake, 4 female figures, a crocodile, and more.
It is made of thick heavy wood. The back piece is 42 inches tall, and the seat is 33 inches tall. The two pieces fit together nicely and are well balanced. The birthing chair is an ancient practice intended to provide balance and support to mothers giving birth. The chair is in very good overall condition with minor chips.


Although, the only problem is that all the sites that mention birthing chairs tend to be auction sites and the books that mention African birthing chairs don't give descriptions or pictures.  So, it's impossible to tell if that's what these really are or if it's also something made up.   More research needed!

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