Viking Days

I went up to the Nordic Heritage Museum today, they were having their annual Viking Days festival. It reminded me certainly of what they do at the Viking Village in Hafnafjörður, but with a rather noticeable exception. In the U.S., next to the Viking re-enactors, there are vendors selling all sorts of other Scandinavian wares, like rosemaled plates, Icelandic pannakökkur, Swedish table lines, etc. America is a land of paradoxes.

"Viking" anything always puts me in a very strange mood, I really don't quite know how to think about the whole thing. Ever since I worked at the Smithsonian, on a big millennium Viking project, I've considered myself a bit of an expert on the subject. And when I moved to Iceland, there were people who knew that about me, and respected that, at least in Reykjanesbær. Once I would get into Reykjavík, all of that would fade, and I would find myself wanting my status to be known, but not wanting to do the social-cannoodling necessary to get it know. I wanted someone else to fix my status for me somehow, because the whole thing seemed unfair to me. Now I look back and think that I was being very needy and very immature, as if Iceland owed me something. And now a days, I think I probably do not know all that much about the Vikings, when it comes right down to it. I've held in my hand artifacts from the Viking age, and I've digged in the dirt, down to the floor Viking Age people have walked on, but other than these temporary glimpses, what do I really know? All I have is an impression, and I don't know if my impression is any more accurate than anyone elses.

But here anyhow is what I think. To me the Vikings were not violent or greedy or misogynistic. Rather, they were contemplative. I think they believed that there was always something below the surface, a magic in artifacts, a connection to the landscape, a life-force in the ships, that the sky and the animals spoke to them. I think the Vikings thought the world was mysterious and powerful, and that carried over into how they interacted with each other as well. Even a slave in the Viking world could have transformative power, and so they approached all things with care and a bit of suspicion.

Viking re-enactors today make all sorts of craft items with many of the same intricate patterns and they carve the same runes. And I never really know if they do so because they want to sell something, and they think those patterns are what the buyers want, or if they do so because they sense the mystery of it and they are trying to convey the complexity out of respect for the fullness of life.

Anyhow, I both know and do not know the Viking Age, and that is a strange feeling that I don't really know what to do with. Someday, I suppose, I will write a book, and try to get it all sorted out, when the timing is right. But for now I'm OK with just leaving it there in Schrödinger's box.

Comments

Jono said…
I'm sure you know more than I do, but the fact that you doubt your knowledge to some degree gives me more confidence in it. Even those who actually lived during the Viking age didn't know everything about it. How could they? Organizing an entire book on the subject would be beyond my capabilities, but not yours. I would like to read such a book.
Lissy said…
Well thank you, I guess that's true, the worst thing is to be so sure of a subject that you don't leave any room for it to surprise you.

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