A Viking Fat Lamp

by Fuiltigherne ni Ruadh O’Finn

Not every culture used candles; in fact, most early period peoples used torches or fat lamps to supplement firelight. A fat lamp consists of a shallow dish filed with fat or oil and a wick: simplicity itself. Soapstone lamps were common among the Vikings. A flat sear shell such as a scallop will do, so will a shallow ceramic bowl. Put a layer of oil or melted fat in the dish, add a wick and light. I use vegetable oil because burning animal fat is often unpleasant. Vikings used wicks of twisted moss. You can use candle wicking or a tightly twisted strip of cloth. Float the wick in the oil with one end resting on the side of the bowl or lamp (some lamps had depressions to hold the wick, rather like an ashtray) and light.

As the wick burns down, you will have to pull the unburned wick up so the lamp will stay lit. Use a pair or tweezers or a sliver of wood to reach in and pull it up. Make sure to set the lamp where it cannot be knocked over.

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