Moderne Vikinger

Modern Vikings

Background house design and image by Shomali Design Studio

The more you know about the vikings, the history, the culture and the customs, the more you will notice how much viking culture is left in Denmark. It’s literally everywhere.
For example: We don’t say “Kristmesse” (“Christmas”) but use the pagan word “Jul”.
Our design, our language and the way we think is highly influenced by our norse legacy.

About one thousand years ago we traveled the world, and we welcomed a large number of immigrants, gaining so much from the cultural exchange, as you always do.
We started using the latin letters, and soon after the arabic numbers followed, as in the rest of the world. Over a period of five hundred years we became christians. Our architecture changed. In many ways we became a part of the pan-european culture.
In the process we traded in our religion, the runes and many customs.

What would Denmark, the Danes and everyday objects look like if we had been more culturally conservative, a thousand years ago?
We are trying to answer that question with this exhibition, and this website.

To strengthen your own culture is not to disregard other cultures; on the contrary.

Most of the things you see here do not exist in reality, but you can find many Viking-inspired things in the shops in Copenhagen.

It is even possible to buy authentic replicas of jewellery, found in archeological excavations in Scandinavia, in many jewellery shops and online: www.museum-jewelry.com.

If you want to know more about vikings there is a beautiful exhibition in the National Museum: www.natmus.dk.

Here are a few facts about viking heritage in Denmark:

The Bluetooth in your cellphone is invented in Sweden and named after the Danish King Harald Bluetooth (Harald Blåtand), and the logo is a compilation of the younger futhark runes for H and B (ᚼᛒ).

Ethnicity
Viking is not an ethnic group but simply means raider. The word was used in most of northern Europe, so if you hear or read about English or Estonian vikings it is not a mistake.

Religion
The most important gods in the norse religion are Odin (the all father), Thor (the protector of mankind, with his hammer Mjölnir), Freja and Frej (the goddess and god of harvest, fertility and love), and Tyr (the god of war, protection and plunder).

The weekdays are named after the norse gods: Mani (Mona), Tyr (Tiw), Odin (Woden), Thor (Thunor) and Freya (Frige).

The world consist of the gods up in Asgård (where you will find the great hall of Valhalla), the humans in Midgård, and the demons down below in Udgård.

The world will be reformed – or end – when the Fimbul winter ends in Ragnarok: The final battle between the gods and the demons.

Every human’s lifespan is decided by the length of their thread in the world tree Yggdrasil.

Odin has two ravens who will keep track of the world for him: Hugin and Munin. He sacrificed one of his eyes in an exchange for wisdom.
The norse religion is not a mythology, as there are still people practising the religion.

The Scandinavian population was christened to avoid a grand scale war with neighbouring countries around year 1000, but the process of changing the religious belief in the population began two hundred years earlier, and took three hundred years more.

The nordic expansion
The vikings would drink a lot of milk, beer and mjöd (mead), eat pork, herring and cabbage as part of a healthy lifestyle. Cleanliness and vanity was also huge on the agenda. That provided them with a long lifespan and low infant mortality. This led to significant population growth.

Dividing a farm between all surviving sons would be devastating, so younger sons would have to work for the oldest, or find somewhere else to create a new farm. This is the primary reason why the vikings expanded their territory to include large parts of western Russia, England, Ireland, northern Germany, Iceland and so on. On raids and on the outlook for good farmland the Vikings went far up the russian rivers, as far as present day Afghanistan, Morocco, Turkey, Greenland and Canada.

Their ships (“dragonships”) were useable both on rivers and open sea, and they had superior navigation skills and instruments. Combined with the large shields and warrior axes, they were virtually unstoppable.

Slavery
The Vikings had slaves (“Trælle”), but not in the same way as african slaves in America. The slaves in Scandinavia would be a subdued part of the family, and often sleep under the same roof as their owners. It was not uncommon that a slave was freed through marriage with a free man or woman. Even children were taken as slaves, but they could be free as well, through adoption.
This is not to imply that the life of a slave was always easy in Scandinavia a thousand years ago.

Women’s power
Vikings did not practise gender equality in modern respect, but it was not uncommon that women would fight alongside the men. These warrior women were called shield maidens (“skjoldmø”). But most importantly, when the men ventured out on viking campaigns in the summer months, the women would run the farms at home.

The viking age
The beginning and end of the viking age is conveniently defined by two recorded historical events. It began with the raiding of Lindisfarne monastery in 793 AD, by a group of vikings from a fjord in Norway, and ended with the death of King Harald Harðráði in England in 1066 AD. Of course there has been Scandinavian raiders in action long before and long after, and some claim the viking age began in 700 AD and ended in 1263 AD.

In fact, the concept of the Viking Age was invented in 1864, in a campaign to strengthen the national identity among the Danes, after a lost border dispute with Germany.

Misconceptions
It is still possible to find nationalists and racists using viking symbology in their propaganda, even though most of our knowledge points to the fact that the majority of the vikings were very curious and open to other cultures and religions, such as christianity, islam and even buddhism, and their genes were far more mixed, with far fewer people with blond hair and blue eyes, than today.
They simply did not have the perception of peoples, nationality and ethnicity that we have now. A Viking would probably not be able to understand the nationalists of today.

It is a widespread misunderstanding that there is a correlation between the words “Norse” and the country of Norway, and that “Danes” are correlated to Denmark, in history. In fact both “Norse” and “Danes” are terms related to the majority of the population in Scandinavia. It is not until long after the viking age that the countries – and borders – were established, creating the countries and populations referred to as Denmark (Danish), Norway (Norwegian), Sweden (Swedish), Iceland (Icelandic), and only a hundred years ago Finland (Finnish).

Another huge misunderstanding is the horned helmets. A single helmet with horns have been found in an excavation, and it has presumably been used in religious rites. Helmets with horns would have been impractical in a fight, and one thing the vikings were not: Impractical.

Mysteries
We know almost everything about life in Scandinavia a thousand years ago. So many treasures and graves are found, so many things preserved in writing. But some mysteries remain.

One of the most important cities of the time was the trading capital of Scandinavia, Hedeby, located a few kilometers south of present day Slesvig, in northern Germany. It simply vanished, and became an empty field. What happened?

We know when and how the vikings found and colonised Iceland, Greenland and “Wineland” (in Canada). We know that the vikings gave up on the colony in Canada and went back to Greenland after about fifty years. But we don’t know how, why and when they vanished into thin air from Greenland. What happened?

A huge mass grave containing remains of vikings have been found in England, but for once, there is nothing in writing about how and when they were killed. What happened? (Forget about “why” – they had it coming!)

Vikings today
Vikings has become a great part of popular culture, with a series on Netflix, where 350 years of viking history has been compressed on the shoulders of poor Ragnar Lodbrok; with Marvel fantasy movies about a weird edition of the god Thor; with misguided tattoo artists creating wild artworks; with a nutcase viking-ish clothed Trump-supporter making a fool of him self on US television, and so on.

But when the spotlight fades, they are a part of our history, and beneath the surface still a large part of our culture.

Today it is american pop culture that effects our language and customs, and the danish festival of “Fastelavn” is fading in favour of Halloween, but we will – by Odin – still say “Jul”.
We are still vikings.

What we are trying to express in this website and exhibition is the simple “what if we had preserved the norse religion, the use of runes, architecture, the clothing style, the braided beard- and hairstyles, etc.?”

Examples of modern – real – brands with Viking Names

Are you hungry for more information – and entertainment – about vikings?

This exhibition and website is kindly sponsored by 

 

Idea, text and design by Hasse Sørensen