The show the Vikings got renewed for a new season! For me watching this show is an intense religious experience.
I totally love the show the Vikings on the History Channel. It really does show the general personality and culture of the Vikings, though in somewhat simplified form.
The one area though where they totally get things completely wrong and very completely so, is in the area of the way the Viking characters in the show dress. The clothing could not be further, in most cases, from Viking clothing styles. [Update: Here is a good accurate webpage on what they actually wore: http://www.hurstwic.org/history/articles/daily_living/text/clothing.htm ]
[Update: I have read some evidence that eyeliner makeup may have been used by both genders in Viking culture. Accounts of this being seen is suggested by a travel log written by an Islamic merchant that traveled to a Viking trade city.]
Also though they have not yet touched upon the religious aspects of Viking culture to a great extent, I am getting the impression they may be off in that area too based on some videos I saw with scenes from future episodes.
What is really good though is that the show does show the general spirit of Viking culture very well and introduces the general public to many concepts that are part of Viking culture that most would not previously have known about, such as a greatly simplified generalized representation of Viking laws and social customs.
Also I love when they show Odin! Of course they only show him in one of his many aspects so far! From what I saw on their website, they simplified the spiritual aspects greatly, but that does make it more easy for the general public to understand, what is a very complex subject.
Overall the real Viking culture was very complex and complicated and they did have a very advanced set of social customs and traditions, a very complex society. The show, the Vikings on the history channel simplifies this complicatedness so that it can make a good show that the general public can enjoy and learn some things from. The show helps to open up public discourse and encourage people to learn more about the Vikings. It’s entertainment value is very good as well. I am rather enjoying it and look greatly forward each week to the next episode. It likely would have limited the shows appeal to the general public if they had made it more accurate, but at least it does push the bar of knowledge that the general public has about the Vikings further.
Here is what someone said about the show, from the standpoint of an archaeologist. My own perspective on it is that of someone that follows a spiritual tradition based on that of the Vikings, but filtered into the needs of modern life. Thus I also draw in many ways inspiration for my cultural ideas from the Vikings as well, since religion and culture do relate to one another greatly.
I probably may have more to say about it as the show progresses. If you have not yet seen it I recommend it. You can view episodes at the History Channels page for the show.
This post is related to an issue explained here, of there being problems with some very bad racist types being attracted to Heathenism. In this post below I explain why racism never was a valid part of Viking culture, and why racist attitudes are not a valid part of Heathenism. The issue of immigration is strongly tied in with the issue of racism. The Vikings were in their day some of the most well traveled people, that settled all over the place in far off lands, thus immigration was strongly tied into Viking culture as a way of life.
I believe that people should be allowed to immigrate to other countries and given opportunities to do so. The culture of a place grows when the people of that country are exposed to the culture of other ethnic groups. All throughout all of human history the greatest leaps in technology and human ideas have come about though the interaction of different ethnic cultures together. Without this culture exchange of ideas between ethnic groups, cultural ideas tend to stagnate and impede social progress. The mixing together of new things from other sources is the way all things in the universe grow stronger. When only the same is being constantly mixed together, things become weakened. This is a law of how nature itself works. In more ancient times in which war between different ethnic groups was very common, this process of the need to gather in ideas and even as well DNA from other ethnic groups happened through the process of war.
When an enemy was defeated their women would be captured and then be made to be part of the conquering group, and of course these women would in time be made to marry the men of the conquering group, and some taken as slaves also (and likely made to provide sexual pleasure for the men who have enslaved them). As well some of the men of the group that has been defeated may be made to be slaves, but the ancient world concept of slavery generally included the chance for the slave to eventually work their way toward being a free person again. Of course freed slaves would then become a normal part of the culture group they had previously been enslaved in, and likely also reproduce within that group and contribute to the diversity of the group’s DNA.
Also in some cultures such as the northern ones which the Vikings derived from, it was common to encourage travelling strangers that visit to sleep with your wife so that new DNA can be interjected into the group, and then the man would adopt any child that resulted as his own (this practice is shown in the Rígsþula from the Poetic Edda). Another practice common with the Vikings, and the cultures the Vikings derived from, was the exchange of hostages when a war does not have a clear winner and it is decided to call a truce. The Norse form of hostage exchange involved the hostages becoming part of the new group they are made to live in and then living by it’s culture and social rules. Of course many such hostages then would end up marrying into people from the group they have now come to life with, and the children of the hostages would become a normal part of this new group. Thus from all these things in no way did the DNA or even the culture of various groups stay the same. It was always mixing with outside ethnic groups and thus keeping the culture and physical health of that ethnic group strong by mixing in elements from the outside.
The concept of different human “races” is a 19th century idea that has no basis in actual science or reality. Even cultural groups such as the Vikings had no concept of different ethnic groups, only the concept of people from other tribes, or people that follow different gods/goddesses than them (but they even did not until the late period have the concept of different religions). This concept of people from other tribes had nothing to do with the physical appearance of the other people, but instead only on that groups social allegiance. In truth the physical makeup of any ethnic group is just a mixture of different physical traits which that group of people evolved towards over long periods of time living in a certain area of the planet. Humans over long periods of time if they live in smaller isolated groups (as was the case in the past) will physically develop traits that help them best able to adopt to the weather and climate conditions of their area. These are well known facts by anyone with any knowledge of the social sciences, but unfortunately there are many people out there who are afraid of loosing their own ingrained ethnic culture and have backwards 19th century ideas of there being different human “races”. This issue is further encouraged by the fact that many US governmental bureaucratic forms that people have to fill out, which incorrectly ask a person what their “race” is. It would be more correct to ask what someone’s ethnic background is. Ethnic background is related to the language a person speaks and the related social culture that language group has developed.
As Heathens it is good to take after the culture and values which the Vikings had. They were explorers that enjoyed travelling long distances to explore other lands. Clearly if they did not enjoy experiencing other cultures they would not have been willing to spend so much time and effort to travel the long distances they did for trade and exploration. It can be stated that it is likely the Vikings were the most curious of all groups about other cultures and wishing to see and experience foreign distant lands with different ways, as that is exactly what they did. Even Buddha statues have been found in Viking treasure hoards, which shows their interest in artifacts from other cultures. Vikings were known to become employed in distant lands as mercenaries. Many Viking tribes ended up settling all over the place and the Viking culture spread and mixed with and enhanced other cultures. The Vikings themselves did immigrate to many lands. Thus to say that others should not be afforded the same rights is rather hypocritical, and even goes against the values of honor which is an important value in Heathen culture. Another side to this is that welcoming those from other lands is an aspect of hospitality. We as Heathens need to extend our own values towards the interactions we have with all people, not just with other Heathens, otherwise this makes what we believe in only a facade to impress others of our own faith, and not something we truly are practising or believe in.
The Norse Viking concept of bad wasn’t so black and white as many people nowadays tend to think. It is more the idea of someone either being in frith with their family/tribe/group, vs going too far and being too wild in their actions and being outlawed and considered dangerous basically. Loki is a good example of this. He isn’t evil really, just sort of one who was all about testing the limits of social order and bringing in new ideas. For a long time he was a mix of both positive and negative in regard to his value to the Aesir, until he eventually went too far and also by this taunted his wyrd to go down a darker path that threw him out of being in frith with the Aesir. Norse concepts of right and wrong and righting wrong are more about balance and restoring balance, than about moral judgment or condemnation, which is a Christian cultural influence and way of thinking. Sadly many Heathens are still far too tainted by Christian thinking and this creates a environment of discord and a general lack of frith in the Heathen scene in general. Generally speaking proper Heathen way of thinking is very open minded and accepting that others outside ones family/tribe/group will have different ways of thinking. The greatest value for historical heathens when it came to actions was to take actions that upheld the frith within their family/tribe/group. Even frith between groups was important as addressed by the codified system of weirguild, and addressing actions with similar counter actions when actions throw out of balance frith. A good example of how what is considered proper differs between each family/tribe/group is that for the Vanir it is considered proper and normal for sisters and brothers to have sex with each other, and even the Aesir do not judge the Vanir for doing so within their own group as they see that as what is proper Vanir behavior, but the Aesir would not allow that kind of behavior by members of the Aesir as that is not proper Aesir behavior. This concept of differences of what is considered proper behavior I feel also applies with regards to those who follow different gods or goddesses as their patron. Like what is proper behavior for an Odin follower, I feel is not the same as what is proper behavior for a Tyr follower, or a Freyja follower. I feel that this concept of proper behavior for each depending on whom they connect with spiritually applies not only in regards to types of actions not allowed or considered taboo, but also in regards to types of behaviors that should be done. For example Odin followers should be into runes and should study magick, and a male follower of Odin having sex with women outside of his marriage (so long as his wife is ok with him doing so) is also acceptable as that is part of honoring the ways of Odin. One who follows a god or goddess that has a more strict code of conduct has to be more strict about their actions and behaviors as this reflects the values of the god/goddess they follow. Acting in ways that respects the value of the god/goddess you follow is the act of staying in frith with your patron and respecting the concepts they stand for. Of course I feel that when you are part of a group you should honor the rules the group has for actions when dealing with the group, it’s members, or doing any activities which represent the group; this is staying in frith with the group. Staying in frith with your group as well as with your patron god/goddess is very important I feel. Actually it would be considered more worse in the Norse concept of morality to harshly judge others as this is harmful to frith. Unless the other person is directly living within your family/tribe/group it would be considered wrong to judge someone else unless that person takes some action which causes harm to your family/tribe/group/friends/allies/gods/goddesses. judging others without cause is actually harmful to the frith of your own family/tribe/group/friends/allies as that invites conflict that often times will have a negative impact on all those you hold troth with. The most important thing for proper actions in all cases is to act in ways that uphold frith, honors your troth connections with others, and upholds any oaths you have made. If you keep in mind these three things then you should be making the best possible actions for all situations.
This is what Wikipedia has to say about frith:
Frith is an Old English word meaning “peace; freedom from molestation, protection; safety, security”.
In terms of Anglo-Saxon and post-Anglo-Saxon culture, the term has a considerably broader scope and meaning. Frith has a great deal to do not only with the state of peace but also with the nature of social relationships conducive to peace. Moreover, it has strong associations with stability and security.
The word friþgeard meaning “asylum, sanctuary” was used for sacrosanct areas. A friþgeard would then be any enclosed area given over to the worship of the gods.
Frith is also used in the context of fealty, as an expression of the relationship between a lord and his people.
Frith is inextricably related to the state of kinship, which is perhaps the strongest indicator of frith. In this respect, the word can be coterminous with another significant Anglo-Saxon root-word, sib (from which the word ‘sibling’ is derived) – indeed the two are frequently interchanged. In this context, frith goes further than expressing blood ties, and encompasses all the concomitant benefits and duties which kinship engenders.
Frith also has a legal significance: peace was effectively maintained in Anglo-Saxon times by the frith-guild, an early manifestation of summary justice.
Troth means loyalty to all those you hold relationships with. Loyalty means to stay by them and to maintain a tie with them and to keep any promises you make towards them.
Here is an online defination of troth:
1. Faith or loyalty when pledged in a solemn agreement or undertaking.
fidelity – faith – allegiance – faithfulness – loyalty
This concept of faithfulness does not mean sexual faithfulness _unless_ it has been specifically agreed that this is part of what it means between both parties. For example Odin is marries to Frigga, yet he has many lovers. He would never consider wishing to leave his marriage to Frigga or having a greater overall connection to other women than he does to her. His other sexual interactions are kept in the context of being not something that competes with the unique relationship he holds with Frigga. Many of the Norse gods/goddesses have sex with others outside their marriages. For some of them this is alright as that is part of the agreed or implied arrangement for those relationships. As well some of the gods/goddesses are sexually monogamous. This really depends on what is the agreed relationship.
As you see part of troth is also to keep ones word. Most important is to uphold oaths. Oath breakers are the one type of person in the concept of Viking Norse culture that are totally unforgivable; at least those who intentionally break oaths. Those who purposely break oaths with intention to cause harm are called nithlings and are considered to be worth less than dirt. What this means is that it is important you keep your word. Of course if something happens that you cannot keep your word then you need to own up to this and talk about it with the ones you made the promise to and see if another arrangement can be agreed upon. Keeping ones word does not mean being a inhuman robot, sometimes circumstances do come up that don’t allow someone to keep their word, the point is that the person does their best and communicates with the others involved when they cannot and is responsible for their actions in this way.
In modern heathenism there is something called thews, this it a codified set of principles that it is considered good (by some people) to follow. None of the existing modern thews are actually something written down as principles that one should or has to follow, from the Viking times. They are all modern creations. Many of them are good ideas (at least for some people). The most popular thew in current day Heathenism is the Nine Noble Virtues, but this is not the only one. There is others such as the Anglo-Saxon related Heathenism one called the The Twelve Æþeling Þews. There is also a very nice one associated with the Vanir, the Vanic Virtues (the one I personally follow). None of these thews are in any sense required for anyone to follow who is Heathen. Like mentioned earlier the only basic principles that must be followed by everyone is respect for frith, troth, and keeping oaths (ones word). Really as was discussed earlier, if one does or does not follow one of other more than one of these thews or some other thews of guiding principles should be determined by what agreements any groups you have troth with wish, in combination with and most important of all; what your patron gods/goddesses wish you to follow. For those not connected to any Heathen group than following what your patron gods/goddesses wish is the only factor that matters in deciding which, if any, of the lists of thews is right for you to follow.
It is important to learn about the Vikings and their culture in studying and learning Heathenism.