Vikings and sword games are all over the place these days. I see them at the parks frequently, usually youngsters in tights, tunics, capes and caps or helmets, swinging swords and claiming victory or accepting defeats. I’ve recently read that these exercises are connected with some electronic games. I cannot help but reflect on those things I’ve recently read about the conditions which led Vikings to be ‘vikings’ -whatever that is. Information about them is not vague, obscure, nor meagre as several books have been written. National Geographic just published a magazine issue featuring ‘Vikings’. There’s also a book, “The Vikings”, copyrighted by them in 1972. There is archaeological evidence continuously being unearthed. -all around the world. Rudyard Kipling covered some of their history in his writings, including the mention of one longboat captain, a woman, who wrote instructions on how to pull the boat up on land periodically, to clean, mend and otherwise repair the fittings. Reading about the woman viking sent me back to my Nordic History books for another look.
King Ælfred had raised questions in my mind because of the way he handled battles with these raiders. He fought with them, frequently winning. Then he baptized them and also paid them ‘Dane geld’ to leave. These stories seemed conflicted to me. Then it occurred to me that the conflict might well be in the minds of those who were writing the histories. It seems even the king’s grandson, Ethelred the Unready (uncounseled) was not certain how he was to deal with them. He also paid them to go away but, they always broke their word. As I read Churchill’s book,[ref]See Churchill, Winston “History of The English Speaking Peoples”,Vol. 1 “The Birth of Britain”[/ref] The King seemed to be of two minds where the invaders were concerned. One instance which struck me was his taking as hostages, the wife and children of one Viking Chieftain. This was after a battle. He shortly thereafter returned this mans wife and children to him. This man left and did not invade again. The king and his warriors fought, took hostages, paid Dane geld. I was not clear on the terms of these negotiations even after reading books about the Vikings. Then, when I found out that Norsemen had founded Dublin and some of the Irish and Norse had intermarried, it was more perplexing. This was during the time when people were coming to Ireland to study and the people were sup[porting them. The descriptions and evidence of horrendous battles have been found in the river running through London. Nice guys or blood-lusting savages?
Another instance that struck me was related by the king’s biographer, Bishop Asser. The King was spending Christmas with family at a castle in a deserted area. The King got word that the Danes found out where he was and were coming after him. He fled with a few retainers before the Danes arrived. After making his getaway, he lived anonymously among the common people. They didn’t know him by sight so it was easy to go under cover. He even went into Danish camps disguised as a musician. This was during the time the story was told that he had been scolded by a housewife for neglecting the bread and letting it burn. That story’s truth has been challenged many times. So what if it is literally true or not. The point is that he was able to get to really know his people. And, they were able to know him as a man, a human being. Later, finding out that the ‘man’ they knew and liked was actually their king…Well, that only served to make them respect him the more. The King studied his people in the context of Gregory’s “Pastorales” and he valued their different gifts. It suggested to me that he found something of value in the Vikings. That book should be read by prospective leaders of men.
I again picked up the book, “A History of the Vikings”, by Gwyn Jones, first published in the 1960s. The book mentions this instance of the ‘old’ distinctions made among ‘Vikings’, Swedes, Danes, Icelanders, Norwegians: “vikings” are more of a job description than they are of a particular genus or species of people. The countries were not yet clearly established and the top families had intermarried. There was one telling distinction, made by the Irish in the First Millennium, .between the Black Vikings and White Vikings.[ref]”A History of the Vikings” Jones, Gwyn, revised edition published 1984,pp.75-77[/ref]For those who skip footnotes, a short quote, “The Irish annalists were a lesson to all with their division of Norse invaders into White Foreigners, Norwegians(/Finn-gaill/), and Black Foreigners, Danes /(//Dubb-gail//l)/, but it was a lesson no one heeded;” Now I would take issue here. I am of the opinion- Please note that I did not simply surmise it. I’ve read the books and have paid attention to descriptions of them and to the pictures of them. A Swedish history indicated that they also were aware of these differences.
I have read and pondered the evidence that Ælfred the Great took notice of these different peoples, that he even went into their camps in disguise and listened to what they said round the campfire. This, I read after reading his Biography including footnotes, though not in the original language. Add this to the Irish names for them. Add to this “Cracker Culture” by Professor Grady McWhinney and his description of ‘Crackers’. The distinction among these peoples is one of Earth Energy as distinguished from Air Energy. ‘Black’ is the presence of all colours and ‘White’ represents the presence of all the colours in light ‘ in the proportion they are in the rainbow.’ Air energy people and Earth energy are ways of distinguishing those of us who have more grounded energies. It is not more or less energy so much as the way we live with it and use it. Earth energies are intense and focused. They often frighten, or otherwise overwhelm, some people. So, at times we have to change the picture to make it less fearsome. As a little girl, coming cross-country through the Southern United States, our Papa stopped at places that served people of color. I did not understand the unfriendly words that indicated we weren’t welcome and he didn’t explain other than to say, “We are Black Irish”. This was why, at the barbecue place, we went to the table outside in back. He referred to the other Irish as “Lace Curtain Irish”. Even those who are the same, are not completely so. All the histories tell about the Vikings who became Northmen, then Norse, Normans, Rus (Russians) and those who settled Sicily.
In history, we have read about the Dane geld and Danelaw of England. This wasn’t just something won in a battle, it was an agreed upon arrangement with a ruler who needed a standing army and a people who wanted land for their families and were willing to work and fight for it. That agreement did not break down until Ethelred the Unready (uncounseled) did not understand the arrangement. He listened to the rumor that the Danes wanted to kill him. He broke the peace by instructing his people to kill their Danish neighbors. I’ve been wondering if Hibernia (Ireland) had a similar arrangement with some Norsemen as Dublin was founded by them and they were ruling for awhile during some of that time when the people of Ireland were working on the ‘peoples languages’, including teaching those who came to learn. The Irish later fought to get their land back but they did it forthrightly. The origins of the name ‘vikings’ are given a great many descriptions but, all have a common /sense/ which is a guy who hangs out or lurks in the city or town, or in a bay, a creek or fijord; a soldier, fighter, sea-faring man, trader; a fast mover or one who turns and recedes into the distance. This sounds like ‘Wer’ any man alive who is moving and doing things. King Ælfred wanted those who could also farm and care for the land and for the people. This is never as simple as black and white; but, this energy distinction clears away the mental cobwebs and allows us to see who the people are and how they conduct their lives under trying circumstances. A woman can be a Viking Chief and still keep her lace curtain manners.
I read of an instance that would try the best of women, and still make it possible for her to be a ruthless warrior chief. The crops had failed for several seasons. The fishing was scarce and herds were lean. The new mother had just given birth and didn’t have enough to feed the children she already had. She went out on the pier and gave her newborn to the fish. That is not a hard woman but, a woman who could make the hard decisions.03-13-2017JOH
- Judith has written (and re-written) the pages below, initially for a book and now for this website. These files are still under revision, and should not be treated as stable documents.