For many years, this iron door ring hung on the parish church door in Forsa in the Central Swedish Province of Hälsingland. It was first recorded as being there in 1599. Some say, it may have come from another nearby Swedish parish church, but that is not it's real origin. The door ring is now kept inside the Forsa church - it does not belong there though. In Medieval Scandinavia it was common for churches to have large door rings – some have animal heads to scare off evil spirits. What makes this large 17-inch diameter iron door ring special is that is has about 250 runes engraved around the edge of it. Some rune translators at first interpreted them as discussing Christianity, but the short branch style of Futhark runes on the ring have been dated to developing at the start of the Viking age – well before the introduction of Christianity into Sweden. There has also been identified what may be a Mjolnir incorporated into the design. The ring has an iron spike that would be used to attach it through a hole in the door. The runic inscription has been translated as dealing with the fines imposed for desecrating a sacred space (vé). The rune ring has then elements of pre-Christian heathen law. The runes in a translation done by Stefan Brink read,
“One ox and two aura [in fine] [to?] staf [or] aura staf [in fine] for the restoration of a cult site (vi) in a valid state for the first time; two oxen and four aura for the second time; but for the third time four oxen and eight aura; and all property in suspension if he doesn’t make right. That, the people are entitled to demand, according to the law of the people that was decreed and ratified before. But they made [the ring, the statement or?], Anund from Tåsta, and Ofeg from Hjorsta. But Vibjörn carved.”
The only possible conclusion of course is that the rune ring is heathen. Aura, or öre, is an economic unit of value. The word itself comes from gold so the penalty for desecrating the sacred temple was quite stiff payable in oxen and gold. Best I can determine, is during the Middle Ages, the aura, or öre, was a unit of currency equal to 1/8 of a mark of gold. And a mark was about 8 ounces of gold. In modern Sweden it is called Öre. An ox though would have been worth about 5 ounces of silver in the Viking age according to several sources.
So, before it ended up on a church, this iron rune ring either hung on the door of a heathen hof or post at a sacred site (vé). The runes on the Forsa ring specify the “law of the people” and fines for desecrating a sacred site. Other large Viking age door rings have been found in Scandinavia. One of them appears to have been deliberately buried in the posthole of a torn down heathen temple. This was at Uppåkra and in the same post hole an ox skull was found that had been deposited along with the door ring. You may be aware that many heathen temples were decorated on the inside and outside with the skulls of sacrificed animals. Such is the case with 23 animal skulls found at the Hofstaðir site in Northern Iceland – all showing signs of ritual killing.
We know the significance that oath rings have in our Norse heathen faith. So, in some ways the door ring captures and symbolizes that importance for those entering a sacred location. In the “Rigspula” Poem in the “Poetic Edda,” door rings on posts are mentioned. Rig (Heimdall) is the father of the three classes of people - Thralls (servants), Karls (freemen), and Jarls (nobles and warriors).
“Thence went Rig, his road was straight,
A hall he saw, the doors faced south;
The portal stood wide, on the posts was a ring,
Then in he fared; the floor was strewn.”
Also, in the Saga of Olav Tryggvason it is written that the hall and hof had door rings- one of them was gold and King Olaf took it and destroyed the temple.
“Then fared Olaf with his men to North-More, and that country likewise made he Christian; thereafter sailed he in to Ladir and caused the temple there to be pulled down and took all the adornments and property from the temple and from the god. A great gold ring which Earl Hakon had caused to be wrought took he moreover from the door thereof, and then after he had done these things caused he the temple to be burned…”
“… King Olaf sent Queen Sigrid the great ring of gold which he had taken from off the door of the temple at Ladir, and it was deemed a most noble gift.”
Marianne Hem Eriksen, Associate Professor of Archaeology at the University of Oslo, in her work “Architecture, Society, and Ritual in Viking Age Scandinavia” proposes that the origin of the Forsa ring is most likely from a torn down and desecrated heathen temple. Also, she proposes that it was made so large on purpose and that it was meant to be seen and maybe read by those entering the sacred site. Perhaps they paused at it and swore an oath before entering the site - we do not know. When the unknown heathen temple where the ring was located was torn down the rune door ring was then repurposed for use in a church.
So, the iron runic door ring of Forsa was probably in use in the 9th Century, but where did the Forsa ring hang before Christianity is a key question? One idea is Uppsala, where the great heathen temple was located according to accounts, it is 146 miles South of Forsa…