Thursday, 12 February 2015

The W.A.R. Armoury, Part 4: Helm

The W.A.R. Armoury, Part 4
Item: Horned Helmet (or Helm)

So the clue was sown in the "Gondor" post, but did you correctly guess the content of today's blog?  For it is a return to the W.A.R. Armoury, that dusty place of weird and wonderful weapons and armour that have featured as part of Hugin's publicity material and demo/album artwork over many years.

Today - as depicted on the "Gondor" cover - it's time to consider that most pivotal of pieces of armour, the helm.  Now, according to online authorities, the helm started as a simple cylinder with a flat top but later developed a curved "sugar loaf" pointed top to deflect crushing blows. Ours has a flat top, giving it a cultural reference back to the earlier days of such devices (bear in mind this is not an authentic antique of the period, but a modern reproduction).

Our design is in keeping with a Great Helm, and although it offered greater protection than previous helmets, such as the nasal helm and the splendidly titled spangenhelm, it limited the wearer's vision to some extent, and provided poor ventilation. A knight might have worn a close-fitting steel skull cap known as a cervelliere (or its later development, the bascinet) beneath the great helm for additional protection. More often than not, particular in tournaments, such a helm would be removed after an initial clash of lances to give the knight a sporting chance of being able to breath and to see who was trying to maim him.

Where our design is somewhat different from the traditional ones of yore is that it sports two horns.  Now, given this is a modern piece this is probably more for style than function, but it might beg the question why Hugin's eye would have been taken with such a thing (other than the fact it looks cool, of course).  Most horned helms of antiquity were ritualistic in purpose, and it turns out that ceremonial use of horned helmets during the Germanic Iron Age persisted until the 7th century.  As such, their use could be argued to possibly have overlapped with the early Viking Age, which overlaps with the theme of early Hrossharsgrani demos of course, giving us a possible link back to why this particular style was used.

Academically speaking, however, there seems to be little or no evidence that horned helmets were ever worn in battle at any point during the Viking Age. Such spoilsports suggest that the popular association probably arose in 19th century Scandinavian Romanticism, and also through the work of Carl Emil Doepler, who in 1876 created horned helmets for use in the first Bayreuth Festival production of Wagner's 'Der Ring des Nibelungen'. Personally, Nazgul blames the Minnesota Vikings football team for perpetuating the myth, as their logo is a horn on each side of the helmet, but each to their own in theories.

Oh: if you're the curious type, by the way, you may be wondering what the difference is between a 'Helm' and a 'Helmet'.  Well, it's very simple - two letters, 'e' and 't'.

Of course, no review of material from The Armoury can be complete without some input from the man himself, so what does Hugin have to say about his memories of this piece: "I bought that helmet from a friend of mine: the boyfriend of Sabine, who sang on "The Durinsday".  Oh yeah, it was really not very comfortable and at minus 10 degrees it was VERY hard to wear; the cold steel touching the skin was really bad, especially on my ears"

So there you have it:  as Shakespeare once said, "it was foretold in days of old that knights so bold were uncontrolled in weather cold and ears would mould and then - behold: They'd be buggered..."

All that remains to comment on is the fact that one of the horns on the helm regularly falls off, giving the piece a cute, rather lop-sided appearance, and for anyone wondering what on earth the previously unreferenced "The Durinsday" release is ... watch this space!

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