So You Think You Know About the Vikings
If I was to say Viking to you — images are probably conjured up of vicious barbaric warriors charging in, to raid and pillage, and indeed to go ‘a-Viking’ was a glorious and noble pursuit. But that wasn’t all there was to the people known as the Vikings. They were traders; they were poets; they had a rich history, and an even richer mythos focused on the cycle of life and rebirth. They were farmers, and so much more. However, I’m less interested in focusing on their lifestyle but on how Christianity has changed our perception of their religious beliefs; and how we cannot trust most sources. So I’m putting a caveat that even this may not be 100% accurate but is based on my own research and reading numerous articles and books on Norse Mythology.
The first individual I want to focus on is the perceptions of Odin and Loki. I’m going to be focusing on Odin first. Christianities influence here is the uplifting and masking of his flaws in a way that wasn’t true. The key thing about Norse religion was that their relationship with their Gods wasn’t to put them on a pedestal, and many sources — and even within the Poetic Edda — place Odin as the ‘good’ guy, and taking on the role of ‘God the Father’. In reality, Odin was just as sly and cunning as Loki and capable of causing illness to happen as much as causing good. Above all, he coveted wisdom and magic and was more than willing to go to war to achieve what he desired. He was considered a fickle God and one not lightly called upon.
Compare this with Loki. Loki has become as maligned as the Devil post-Christianization. Again I’m not saying that he was a perfect individual; he was deeply flawed in his own way — however, Loki’s flaws are all well known. If I say Loki to you, your probably thinking causes mischief and chaos and even brings about the Ragnorak. The end of days. All very true, however, this is all reflected in the cycle of the year, and the cycle that the Norse believed in, but has largely been scrubbed out of existence in all texts. Much of the apparent mischief Loki caused was due to him trying to aide the Gods and Goddesses in his own way, but his plans having consequences he wasn’t expecting. He did his best to repair and fix the times he truly caused harm on purpose until his very last mischief. But even this could be seen as him following his natural role as to starting to bring about the Ragnorak.
So let's talk about Ragnorak. We’re often taught to view it as fire, brimstone, the end of the world—the last calamitous event to destroy all things and wipe all away. This is not true at all. Well, not totally, at least. Ragnorak was seen as the ending and wiping away the current norms, but this was not seen as a terrible thing. Instead, it was seen as a very natural progression of life. Ragnorak was an explanation of the very cyclical nature of the seasons, playing out on an epic scale. Rather than Ragnorak being the ‘end of the world’ akin to the end of times in Christianity, Ragnorak was more akin to the old ways evolving and adapting. Yes, the old gods were very much swept away and destroyed, but this was a way of allowing new gods to step forwards. It allowed the Norse people to adapt to new situations and allow them to, if need be, bring in new Gods.
One last thing to talk about. The Poetic Edda. While this may have been based on what was originally spoken about, but it likely isn’t truly accurate. Writing didn’t become mainstream until Christianity was well and truly established. I will let you reflect on what that may mean for the written text form of the Poetic Edda.