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Norse - Rape, pillage, slaves and burials

Identifier

017150

Type of Spiritual Experience

Background

 

Numerous accounts of the Vikings, including it has to be said those of Neil Oliver from whom the extract below has been taken, depict the Vikings as brutal pillagers of other societies, whose principle objective was acquisition of wealth and slaves.  And indeed I am sure there were many who fitted that bill.  Given that numerous pirates from far off lands did the same thing, this appears to be a fairly common activity of the time.

But in depicting the Vikings this way the one thing the historians constantly overlook is the rather selective nature of this activity.  The Vikings favoured monasteries and Christian villages and they took monastic wealth and Christian slaves, for a reason.

At the time the Vikings were operating, their religion was under threat.  The Viking and the Celtic religion shared very common beliefs and heritages and both could easily co-exist.  But Christianity promoted a completely different set of beliefs, a set of beliefs that were a real threat to the Vikings culture and sense of identity.  Their beliefs were their culture. 

They had already had to contend with one threat – that of the Romans, who were repulsed at their very door, now the threat of the various empires being built on a veneer of Christianity posed yet another threat.  The empire [then Christian] operating from Constantinople to their east and the empire being built by Charlemagne to their south.  They were caught in a gradually advancing pincer movement.

The Vikings allied with the Celts to drive out the new Christian empire builders.  The Christian empire builders were every bit as brutal as the Vikings, if not more so, thus brutality was matched by brutality.

In order to defend a faith, it is occasionally also worthwhile exaggerating the brutality, with the prime objective of making potential invaders think twice before they attack.

The following describes a Viking burial.  I think this more accurately represents these peoples

A description of the experience

Vikings – Neil Oliver

The grave contained the skeleton of a young woman.  I like to imagine she was lovely.  Around her neck was a string of red deer teeth – collected from as many as 40 different animals.  Such a keepsake, made from 40 separate kills, speaks of a great and skilful hunter.

It is not much of a leap to see it as a gift given only to the most important person in his world, his wife.  Buried beside her was a newborn baby laid upon the wing of an adult swan, the bones as light as a bundle of straws.

By the baby’s hip was a little knife knapped from a piece of flint.

We cannot ever know but it seems likely the woman died in childbirth and her baby with her.  The passing of the years does not lessen the tragedy, or its impact.

Someone grieving for them saw to it that they went to their grave together, she wearing the necklace he had made for her and their baby nestled on the wing of a white bird.

For hunters – of all people the most sensitive to the ways of animals – the comings and goings of the great flocks of migratory birds might have captured their imaginations like nothing else.  They represent the journey, the voyage without end.

 

The source of the experience

Norse

Concepts, symbols and science items

Concepts

Symbols

Swan
Wings

Science Items

Activities and commonsteps

Activities

Overloads

Grief

Commonsteps

References