I’ve often thought that Glastonbury has the most varied and interesting independent shops in the country. I recently spent a morning chatting with Stuart and Fiona Brogan in their Viking-themed shop ‘Wyrdraven’ on Benedict Street, where they talked about their passion for bringing the Viking era alive. It all started when Stuart and Fiona met seventeen years ago when Stuart moved to the Isle of Lewis in Scotland with his Dad. He was already a follower of Heathenry and Fiona was an SSPCA inspector (Scottish RSPCA). They moved to Glastonbury in 2012, representing Heathenry at the Town’s Ceremony of Harmony and Healing that year.
Their business began with a stall at the Assembly Rooms Secret Market on Tuesdays in 2013. This was more popular than they had expected and one table rapidly grew to three. They also held stalls at the Wytches Markets and Frost Fayre events. Then in 2013, they opened Glastonbury’s first Viking shop ‘Shieldmaiden’. Due to a rival company trademarking the word Shieldmaiden they had to change their name and settled on ‘Wyrdraven’, ‘Wyrd’ meaning ‘fate’, while ravens were Odin’s messengers.
Stuart tells me “I wouldn’t call Heathenry a religion, more a philosophy. It’s about personal responsibility, trying to be a better version of yourself. We’re always learning, we’re not experts, Heathenry nowadays is a reconstruction of a faith that was based on an oral tradition. We fill in the details based on our own moral compass and our own worldview. We try to guide people who are new to the faith, but we can’t answer all their questions. Fortunately, the shop attracts a lot of experts – archaeologists, historians, etc, who have become friends, so when we are approached by people new to Heathenry with questions we can’t answer, we guide them towards these people who really know their stuff”
Fiona is keen to point out that there is a misconception that Heathenry is very inclined towards the masculine “big beards and bulging loin cloths”. The feminine aspect was equally important.”In the Viking Era the women were as equally regarded as the men. They were also the practitioners of the “magic” within society. As modern Heathens, we want to continue to promote a balance between the feminine and masculine”.
Some visitors have assumed they opened the shop as a consequence of the TV programme ‘Vikings’ but they point out that their initial shop started a year before the show came out, Stuart tells me “We can’t say it hasn’t helped in bringing awareness of Viking / Heathen culture to the masses, but it is only a TV show!” The couple feel there are other reasons for the growth of interest in Vikings: “With the archaeological finds in Nova Scotia, Estonia and Eastern Europe interest in the Viking era has taken off around the world and as such, people are realising there is more to the culture than we first believed”.
“Viking was something you did, not something you were “
The couple don’t refer to themselves as Vikings, Stuart tells me: “The Vikings died out a thousand years ago, we just sell goods appertaining to the Viking era. ‘Viking’ was something you do, not something you are. We don’t mind people calling it ‘the Viking Shop’ but we’re not Vikings. ‘Heathen’ just means country dweller who doesn’t subscribe to a recognized faith, it was a Christian insult, but we wear it as a badge of honour.”
I ask them who their customers are and they surprise me by telling me they have a huge Spanish and Mexican fanbase. “It’s bemusing, but the first day we opened the shop we were visited by eighteen Mexican Druids! I’m still in touch with them to this day. We had a fourteen-year-old boy from Hong Kong in the shop who made his parents bring him here whilst visiting the UK, because he was obsessed with Vikings. Kids love it here, we’re friendly, it’s a community, We dress kids up as Vikings so their parents can take photos”. On the wall of the changing room, I see several drawings by smaller visitors to the shop.
They told me the shop looked like a boutique when they started as they didn’t have a huge amount of stock, and now they are struggling to find shelf space. They started off stocking goods that were about heathen spirituality, more recently they’ve moved into reenactment kit as well and they also provide props for TV productions and to local schools to support learning about the Vikings too.
They support smaller British companies where they can, but also stock items from indigenous communities, like their selection of Sami drums and instruments from Sweden and bone flutes, lyres and taglharpa made in the UK, based on archaeological finds from Northern Europe. They sell jewellery made for the TV production ‘Vikings’ and reconstructed Jorvik pottery copied from Viking finds and a large range of Viking folk and traditional music.
They sell a fair few items of animal origin – sheepskins, reindeer, drinking horns, leather journals etc. These are all ethically sourced or by-products of the food industry. “The bird wings we sell come from farmers who are shooting them as pest control. They’d only be thrown in the bin if we weren’t taking them”. Of course, wolves were prominent in Norse myth, they have their own descendant of the noble wolf in the form of Poppy, a Shi-Poo in a flowery collar, who has her own purple bean bag by the counter. They joke that she is the shop’s guard dog.
Mead, Mead, Glorious Mead
It’s important to note that Wyrdraven stock the largest selection of meads in the South West, including my personal favourites from the Lancashire Mead Company.
Stuart Brogan, Author
There’s a large selection of books in the shop, including those penned by Stuart himself. He is a published author of five books so far, two on Heathenry and paganism, the rest horror thrillers. The latest, is set in Glastonbury and comes with a Viking twist. You can find out more about Stuart’s writings on his website or via his social media page.
Janey tells me that Stuart is very solitary by inclination. “If he could choose he’d live in the middle of bumf**k nowhere writing his books and not interacting with anyone. But then he’s always joking with people in the shop. He’s got a very dry sense of humour”.
I ask Stuart and Fiona about the recent media suggesting that Heathenry has been infiltrated by the Far Right. Stuart tells me “Not all heathens are fascists or Nazis. There are good and bad in all religions. There is a strong element in the Heathen community that are fighting back against nefarious elements trying to twist it to their own purposes”. Fortunately, they’ve never had a customer spouting bigotry in the shop, and wouldn’t tolerate it either. However they do have the occasional interaction with Glastonbury’s more lunatic fringe, Stuart tells me about one particular day: “In the morning I was called a Left-wing liberal, in the afternoon I was called a Right-wing fascist, it was like insult bingo!” From their experience online, they have found that the Far Right elements in Heathenry have been mostly an American phenomenon – consequently, they find themselves in occasional arguments with keyboard warriors on social media.
Stuart says “Everyone is welcome here, regardless of faith, colour, creed, just don’t be a twat or give us Covidiot leaflets”
I ask Fiona why they decided to set up their business in Glastonbury, she tells me she loves the town “I love the freedom to be yourself, It’s a very tolerant place, I like the fact you get all types of people from all walks of life, all religions, feeling comfortable in the town”. Their customers are even more diverse than you might expect “We’ve had several people tell us they talk to aliens, we’ve had a German witch hunter, quite a few people who say they’ve had psychic attacks and want to talk about it. We get a surprising number of people bringing their animals in the shop, except for dogs due to Poppy telling them off. Pet rats, cats, European Eagle owls, a baby goat and lamb and a Shetland pony. We’ve even had an emu”.
We talk about the buskers on the High Street and Fiona tells me she saw two people having a sound war across the High Street, a guitarist versus a woman playing the recorder and mouthing off at each other. He just turned his amp up until he’d drowned her out! However, despite their love of music, neither enjoy the dulcet tone of bongos!
Plans for the Future
Wyrdraven is a family-run business with a strong family ethos. Fiona worked with her daughter Janey on their new website, so they can sell their full range of goods online. Janey lives in Barcelona and suggests they open a Viking shop in Spain, such is the interest in Vikings over there.
“We hope to branch out to doing more stalls at festivals. Many of our customers are huge heavy-metal heads, so we know we’d go down well at rock festivals.” Other business diversifications have been suggested too. “People have asked if we’d start a Viking dating app”, Stu thinks there should be a Viking version of Tinder called ‘Horny Invaders’!”
The Wyrdraven website is now live!
You can now order from the Wyrdraven Shop and have your Viking items posted through your door.
Glastonbury Gabriel and I made a video a while back about Wyrdraven, I hope you find it entertaining.
You can also find out more about Wyrdraven on Facebook at facebook.com/wyrdraven
All photos copyright Vicki Steward, except the header image of Fiona and Stuart
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