These days, everybody wants to be a Viking. And while I think it’s great that my ancestors’ culture is becoming increasingly popular, I feel that sometimes people are getting it all wrong. Being a Viking gets mixed up with being a Norseman or -woman. Being a Viking was a lifestyle that some Norsemen and even -women lived, while the Norse were a group of clans who shared the same culture and variants of the same language.
In this blogpost, I will try to explain what it means to be a Viking and why I chose that lifestyle.
But first, let me tell you what being a Viking is not about: Being a Viking is not about acting tough or the size of your biceps. It seems like some people still believe in that modern interpretation of the Vikings where they are all blond, muscular and wielding a sword. Please, can we just try to move on from that? It is just historically wrong, and all the archeologists I know are laughing while shaking their heads, because that perception of the Vikings is so far off.
However, being a Viking is not just about being historically correct, either. Reenactors often tell me about «The Historically Correct Police», people who believe that if you are to dress up for some Viking market, you must only use clothes similar to the ones we have actually found. Which, of course, means that you would have a bunch of people looking like wealthy Norsemen and -women risen from the grave, still dressed up for the journey to the afterlife. And while I do understand the fascination for trying to copy clothes we know for certain were used by the Vikings, I am a much bigger fan of using scientific method to understand, and then build on that understanding. But whatever you put on, no piece of clothing will ever make you a Viking. It will only make you look like a Norseman or -woman.
So, what does it really mean to be a Viking? The word itself most likely comes from «vik», meaning «fjord». A Viking was a «person from the fjord» and most often, but not always, that person was a man. «Going Viking» was something you did that shaped your personality. It meant travelling, and as a Viking that meant the sea would be your home. A Viking could be an explorer, trader, pirate, capturer of slaves, a mercenary etc. He would probably be motivated by the need for aquiring «fehu», material and/or spiritual wealth, and he would be motivated by his need to avoid dying in his bed.
That last part is much more significant than many realize, and I personally believe it was the single most motivating factor for those who chose the Viking life. Of course, not everybody got into that lifestyle by choice, but for those who had an option, avoiding dying in your bed was probably a big issue back then. After all, they did not have effective painkillers. Even today dying from illness is painful, and the fear and grief while waiting for that to happen is even worse. I would choose death on the battlefield any day. And believe me, this is not something I’m just saying. My fear of illness has been very present in my life since I was a kid, and it has shaped me much more than I realized until recently. At the age of 8, I got some sort of internal bleeding and they couldn’t figure out why. I spent one week in hospital, and since nobody told me what was going on, I thought I was dying. I remember lying on the operating table, completely naked, just before the anesthesia kicked in – and I thought that if I somehow survived, I was never going into a hospital again. I would run and never look back.
Shortly after I got out of hospital, I found Norse mythology and it really spoke to me. It had the strength I needed. And I needed it badly, since at that time I still thought I was very ill. I was in pain, but being afraid of going back to the hospital, I told nobody. The concept of the Viking seemed like a much better option than living in fear, so I adopted what I believed was a Viking mentality – and I was only 8 years old.
To this day, I have never regretted that choice. Being a Viking is all about choosing to fight when others give up. It is about standing where others kneel. It means that you choose life, vitality and movement instead of a passive lifestyle where others make your decisions for you. Being a Viking means that you will fight to the end, whatever happens. When life gives you nothing but lemons, you don’t make lemonade, you eat those lemons raw and ask for more. It can be hard sometimes, but trust me, life is better this way.
-Bjørn Andreas Bull-Hansen