Viking Discernment

Viking Discernment December 17, 2015

viking woodworkAccording to history and legend, the people of Iceland converted to Christianity in 1000 after their chieftains left the decision up to the “Lawspeaker,” their version of a one-man Supreme Court .

His discernment method?

Burrowing under his cloak for an entire 24 hours to think the matter through.

At first read, it struck me as nonsense. But the notion stayed with me. As a discernment method, it holds up.  The Viking Lawspeaker:


  1. Removed himself from daily concerns.

  2. Allowed time in silence, solitude and presumably darkness with few distractions.

  3. Waited on an answer.


It might do us all some good to burrow under a blanket for awhile and allow time for the Spirit to move us in discernment. When was the last time you took intentional silence, solitude and a break from distractions in order to listen for the wisdom of God within you? I’ve taken each of those in short spurts but never been quite so dedicated as the Lawspeaker to devote a large block of time under my cloak.

There are spiritual seekers who go on quests and sojourns in nature for just such a purpose. They take nothing to distract themselves with—no books, no cellphone, no musical instruments. They sleep under the stars and let their mind, body and spirit settle into God’s presence.

The lesson in this Viking discernment method is that it takes time away from our daily routine and distractions to be intentional about listening to the Spirit in discernment. We may need to find ways to enter darkness. We may need to burrow for awhile to think matters through. We will have to wait—there’s rarely any question about that!

Finding this discernment practice has inspired me to keep looking for ways people throughout history have quieted the mind to hear the Spirit.

I am grateful to the History Channel’s dramatic series Vikings for leaving me thirsty for more knowledge about the so-called Dark Ages in Europe. The story about the Lawspeaker was found in John Andrew’s novel A Viking’s Daughter.

If you are interested in learning more about spiritual direction or entering spiritual direction with me, please contact me at  or visit  Also visit my website for the Phoenix Center for Spiritual Direction.


Photo credit: hans s via / CC BY-ND

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