History is a powerful elixir, capable of transforming sinners to saints with the mere passage of time. Well, calling Vikings saints may be a bit of a stretch, but still, they have become some of the sexy bad boys of the Middle Ages, and with the finding of a Viking horde in Scotland last month, they are in the news once again. Vikings and monks were kind of like medieval dogs and cats. Monasteries, located in lonely regions, often amassed wealth and Vikings, looking for loot and less scrupulous about bloodshed, were eager to take it. The give and take (literally) of this violent lifestyle involving seafaring, battles, and churches, makes for good ancient drama and much of it took place along the coasts of Scotland. Our Scandinavian scourge, however, didn’t stop there. It is well established that the Vikings made it to North America well before Columbus. Those who don’t dismiss the Kensington Rune Stone also claim that the Vikings reached Minnesota long before football ever did. Whatever the reason, we are fascinated with Vikings.
Perhaps they are the ultimate autonomous self-promoters. We all would secretly, at least, enjoy being able to set our own standards so that they favored us and our loved ones. The Vikings represent the flaunting of the rule of law, traveling far to take what they want by force. And, perchance, leaving a bit of treasure behind as well. The Vikings became Christianized and the slave trade (long before the New World caught hold of the idea) was effaced to the point of becoming uneconomical to them. Nobody is certain why, but the Vikings, probably for a variety of causes, ceased to be the terror of the seas. Now the Scandinavians are considered among some of the most literate peoples of the world.
Along with the decline of the Vikings, however, also came the fading of the monastic cultural hegemony. To be sure, there are monks and nuns still today, but the force with which they gripped the medieval imagination began to decline with the Protestant Reformation and the recognition that vast wealth, even if cloaked in poverty, is still vast wealth. Now the finds from both monasteries and Viking sites constitute historical treasure. Information about a world long gone. The underlying idea, however, is never very far from the surface. We may lay claim to post-colonialism, but powerful economies have a way of getting what they want in the way of trade treaties and tariffs in any case. When a Scot finds a Viking these days, it is a cause for celebration as we let bygones be bygones and cut the humanities curricula nevertheless. The Vikings never really disappeared.
Posted in Archaeology, Britannia, Current Events, Higher Education, Posts, Religious Violence
Tagged Christianity, Kensington Rune Stone, monasteries, monks, Reformation, Scandinavia, Scotland, Vikings
We have ceased believing in the gods, but we still feel their wrath. The recent winter storms encompassing much of the nation demonstrate our arrogance in the face of the uncontrollable. It has long been my contention that the chief god is a personification of the weather. No matter how many HAARPs we put into place or how many satellites we hurl over our heads, the atmosphere remains a chaotic system. Global warming triggers unpredictable weather and extreme conditions. Yet people claim the moderate level of snow in the northeast is proof against the facts. I say the gods are laughing. How quickly we forget the ice ages.
As a child Norse mythology was among my favorite pagan religious systems. Obviously those responsible for naming our weekdays felt the same. The struggles and weaknesses of Odin, Thor, and Loki are far more honest than claims of pristine intention on the part of the majority of gods. The most captivating aspect was the eventual victory of the frost giants at a kind of Ragnarök. In Scotland, so close to the landfall of many a Viking, I took advantage of indulging in Viking sagas and myths. My understanding remains that of a curious layman, but I sense a deep wisdom at work here.
A recent email from a university dean on a particularly treacherous weather morning admonished all instructors that classroom presence was a commodity that paying students have a right to expect. Deans, with their six-figure salaries, are not accustomed to not getting their own way. How hard it is to admit that the gods have bested us! There are those who’ve not bothered to study global warming but nevertheless like to make pronouncements about it. They claim such weather disproves that the world is heating up, despite the global warming models that predict erratic and localized colder weather. We have released the frost giants. The more we mess with them the more dangerous they become. So, what is my solution to the dilemma of too much weather? Well, I’m morally obligated not to say until I receive my six-figure salary.
The little wolf laughed to see such sport
Posted in Classical Mythology, Current Events, Deities, Higher Education, Posts, Weather
Tagged frost giants, global warming, HAARP, Loki, Norse mythology, Odin, Ragnarok, Thor, Vikings