One look at Björk’s character in the Northman and you can tell how much fun the costume designers had with the role. They portray the seeress as a fluid being: she goes in and out of both reality and religious beliefs.
The seeress is seen spinning thread, which suggest she may be a norn: a Norse deity who weaves the fates of man. Though she is most likely a Norse deity, her costume is actually based off of traditional Slavic clothing. I love the concept of a Norse spirit taking on the physical form of a Slavic goddess because she’s in the land of the Rus. It sends an interesting message about how religion and spirituality is never fixed - they’re constantly shifting forms as various peoples move and come into contact with each other.
Björk had a lot of influence in the making of her costume. She worked with Robert Eggers and the costume department to create something otherworldly, but still rooted in history. Linda Muir explains this process in an interview with Vogue Magazine. Muir says “Björk felt very strongly that because her character’s eyes had been taken by a Viking militia, she should have the cowrie shells for fertility and the bells to ward off evil spirits.” (Muir 2022a). Björk also asked that chicken feet be added to one of the necklaces the night before filming, which the props team was able to do with silicone. “Björk was amazing: She was loaded with every Slav cultural connection,” said Muir (Muir 2022b).
The seeress’s headdress consists of bands of tablet weaving, which hold a large fan of what Muir confirms to be barley. The style is modeled after traditional celebratory Ukrainian headdresses. In a journal article on slavic wedding traditions, Polish-American historian Dan B. Chopyk discusses what these traditional female headdresses look like. “[The headdress] is adorned with ribbons and, around her head, with flowers. This headdress is usually trimmed with designs which are generally considered symbols of the protective female goddess, such as zig-zag, wave, and rhombic patterns.” (Chopyk 1986, 115). The headdress also includes rings hanging around the temples which were common in slavic headdresses as they “could be used to identify the origin of its owner” (La Rus and Kies 2001, 2). We also see this in Olga’s costume before she is enslaved.
If you look closely at Björk’s dress, you can see it’s completely covered in various patterns, which are are woven and embroidered in a traditional Slavic style. Muir touches on this in her interview with Vogue. “I found a fantastic video from a Russian museum, which one of our producers translated for me, and I learned that during the period the word for embroidery was apparently the same as the word for writing. And then another light went off for me, that it’s being used as a call to the gods—in this case, the Slavic gods, not the Viking gods; they are embroidering their desires for their family.” (Muir 2022a). While the seeress’s costume can be interpreted in many ways, I like to believe that the varied and seemingly endless pattern covering her dress is an amalgamation of all the embroidery Slavic women have done out of prayer to her. This costume, to me, is the most striking and symbolic in the movie.
Chopyk, Dan B. 1986. “THE MAGIC OF A CIRCLE: Ceremonial Attire, Food, and Dance Symbolism in Slavic Weddings.” Russian Language Journal / Русский Язык 40, no. 135: 115–20. http://www.jstor.org/stable/43668961.
La Rus, Sofya and Kies, Mka Lisa. 2001. "Women’s Clothing in Kievan Rus." Academia.edu. http://www.academia.edu/8921162/Kievan_Rus_ womens_clothing.
Muir, Linda. 2022a. “How The Northman’s Costume Designer Brought the Viking World to Bold, Breathtaking Life” by Liam Hess. Vogue. https://www.vogue.com/article/the-northman-costume-designer-linda-muir-interview.
Muir, Linda. 2022b. “‘The Northman’: A Guide to Viking Chic and Other Medieval Attire” By Bill Desowitz. IndieWire. https://www.indiewire.com/2022/04/the-northman-costume-design-robert-eggers-1234720210/.
Pivni, Treti [@third_roosters]. 2018. “Traditional clothes of Poltava region, Eastern Ukraine.” Instagram. https://www.instagram.com/p/Bh4o_VthleP/.
“The Northman movie costumes on display” 2023. Hollywood Movie Costumes and Props. https://hollywoodmoviecostumesandprops.blogspot.com/2023/05/the-northman-movie-costumes-on-display.html