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VIKING MOJO

JUAN COLE is the Richard P. Mitchell Collegiate Professor of History at the University of Michigan, with a speciality in the relationships of the Muslim world with the West. I learned a lot from his article, “Yes, White Supremacists, Some Vikings Were Muslims & Thor Was Brown.”

Cole observes that archeological findings link first millennium A.D. Vikings in Sweden with Arabic text for Allah and Ali, the prophet Muhammad’s cousin and son-in-law. Were these artifacts a record of Norse conversion to Islam? “This possibility drove the Neo-Nazis, Klansmen, the Breitbart staff, and other losers bonkers, since Vikings for them are the ur-Whites.”

Clare Downham, Senior Lecturer at the University of Liverpool, shares similar views in her article, “Vikings Were Never the Pure-Bred Master Race White Supremacists Like to Portray.” It was during the 19th century, Downham notes, that “Vikings were praised as prototypes and ancestor figures for European colonists.”

Seafaring Danes invade England; an illuminated illustration from the 12th-century Miscellany on the Life of St. Edmund.

In a sense, this trend went from bad to worse. Richard Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen, written over the period 1848–1874, transformed Norse sagas into German grand opera. Fifty years later, the Nazis commandeered Wagner’s works and these legends to express their own twisted ideology of Aryan supremacy.

Opps. The real Aryans replaced the Dravidians in northern India in the 2nd millennium B.C. They were hardly blond blue-eyed avatars.

The modern-day alt-right is falling for this same ethnic nonsense by adopting the symbols of Viking times. There’s more than enough balderdash to go around. Wikipedia cites several Viking misconceptions.

A range of Viking travels and trade routes, with approximate years of establishment.

Vikings were traders every bit as much as marauders. Their trade routes, cultural influence, and genetic impact stretched from Newfoundland in the west to Constantinople and Baghdad in the east. As cited by Professor Cole, archeological digs unearthed Muslim artifacts in first millennium A.D. Scandinavian burial sites. DNA studies have identified that female Viking traces are concentrated closest to Scandinavia. By contrast, DNA samples from farther away show more Norse relationship in the male Y-chromosome line.

It’s generally recognized that Leifur Eiriksson came to North America around the year 1010. According to icelandreview.com, “Porfinnur Karlsefni and his wife Guðriður lived in America for a few years and bore a son called Snorri, believed to be the first white child to have been born in America”

Alas, in the same article, “White-Nationalists March Toward Statue of Icelandic Viking,” Iceland Review also cites that an America neo-nazi group, Keystone United, attempted to recruit Porfinnur symbolically as one of its own.

Statue of Porfinnur Karlsefni in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Note his Viking headgear.

Viking horned helmets are a myth. Archeological findings suggest their helmets were of hard leather with wood or metallic reinforcement. Horns or other adornments may have been part of ritual use in earlier cultures.

As for alleged barbarity, Wikipedia notes that Adam of Bremen, a German medieval chronicler, “told largely disputable tales of Viking savagery and uncleanliness.” The myth of Vikings drinking blood from vanquished skulls came from a 17th-century mistranslation of an Old Norse poem. It’s likely the Vikings were quaffing beer or mead from drinking horns.

Drinking horns. Image from “What the Vikings Really Drank…”, norsetradesman.com.

In fact, Merriam-Webster notes that the term “Viking” didn’t even appear in English until 1795. However, M-W is less than up to date in current archeological findings in describing a Viking as “one of the pirate Norsemen plundering the coasts of Europe in the 8th to the 10th centuries.” The word possibly comes from the Old Norse word vika, a sea mile, the distance between two shifts of rowers.

“Going a-Viking.” Image from theconversation.com.

Yes, the Vikings were certainly seafarers. But they weren’t altogether barbaric blood-drinking wackos. Nor are they a model for white supremacy. As Professor Cole notes in his article, “The biggest problem with white supremacy is how hateful it is. But its second biggest problem is how stupid it is.” ds

© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2018

One comment on “VIKING MOJO

  1. Gordon Craig
    February 24, 2018

    My parents emigrated here with my older half sister and moi in the early 1950s from Scotland, our recorded ancestry dates back one thousand years or more on Lismore, an island off the western shore near Oban, and long a Viking settlement with its own castle, now in ruins….Mom and Dad would go to neighborhood cocktail parties and were often asked one of two questions: “You’re from Scotland? Weren’t you neutral during the War?” or “Scotland? You’re from the right country!”….colossal ignorance, as my Dad used to say.

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