Lou Agresta

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Vikings Would Have Enslaved White Supremacists

April 24, 2018

 

Recently, deep in the comments on my Facebook page someone wondered what Viking Age Scandinavians would have thought about white supremacists and their misbegotten ilk. They used other words, but forgive me for paraphrasing; I mean, how often do you get to say "misbegotten ilk" and mean it?


It's a question I've heard before, and it's been answered by better bloggers than I (I highly recommend Bjorn Bull-Hansen's excellent post, Concepts that Meant Nothing to a Norse Heathen.  For that matter, I recommend everything Bull-Hansen has to say about the Norse on his blog. I'm positively vibrating for English translations of his novels.)


Understanding, then, that others have trod this ground before me; here's my take: Vikings would have enslaved white supremacists precisely because the Norse conception of the Other was not race based. 


"What's he saying, Gunnar?"
"Really, Ulf. Who cares? Just toss him in the boat and grab his wife, she's getting away."

 

The modern notion of race is a 17th-18th century construct invented, I'd hazard, to reconcile imperialism and slavery with Christianity. Scandinavians 'gone a viking' in the 9th century were heathen and not all that concerned with seizing land until they invaded England -- another story, entirely.
 

Rather, the Norse conception of the Other turned on inangard vs. utangard, 'inside the gate' vs. 'outside the gate.' Part of society or not part of society, with everything 'outside the gate' being chaos, a threat to survival, and mythopoetically 'of the jotun' (giants). 

 

A person who transgressed society's laws went from inangard to utangard. They became an outlaw. Utangard applied to both the inner nature of a person and the outer world; for example, all the uncontrollable forces of nature poised to wipe out a Norse settlement were deemed utangard. A murderer became utangard. Chaos and destruction were utangard, whatever their provenance.

Interestingly, Odin was the only god who was the god of both heroes and outlaws, both the ruling class and the criminal, the inangard and the utangard. Most other Norse powers - and certainly the other Norse gods - were either one or the other.

 

If you weren't part of their culture and religion, if you didn't share Norse belief complexes, then to the Vikings you were utangard. So... Nazis? White supremacists of any stripe? Utangard, as would be any pattern of belief or behavior so outside a recognizable ~9th-11th century Norse zeitgeist.

I invoke the over-used term 'zeitgeist' because it captures a specific circumpolar cultural reality. The mere fact of being 'foreign' or 'not Norse' didn't qualify one for utangard status.

 

For example, recent evidence indicates the geographic range of the Sami people (and by extension, perhaps other circumpolar peoples as well) overlapped with the Viking Age Norse. Some of their tribes cohabitated with the Norse, without conflict, while still remaining a distinct people with their own culture, subject to their own laws and mores. The Sami were non-Norse, and yet they were still considered inangard.

 

My reading suggests this was largely due to a cultural familiarity so deep certain Sami and Norse cultural complexes might even be said to share a common ancestor. The term 'zeitgeist' seems to encompass all this fairly well.

 

For those with a further anthropological-cultural interest, I highly recommend Price's The Viking Way. Price makes a strong case for cohabitation of the Sami and the Viking Age Norse, both by drawing on the material (archeological) record and comparing Sami and Norse religious and magical beliefs (anthropological). It's hard to find the original dissertation outside a university library, but you can preorder the revised version on Amazon

 

If you'd like to read more about inangard and utangard, here is an article I feel has explanatory value.

 

And another short but excellent read is Bull-Hansen's, There Are No Racists in Valhalla.

 

For my part, I'll leave you with Gunnar and Ulf.

     "By the Hanged God's drippings Ulf, did you have to hit that white supremacist so hard? I could have handled it."

     "But he was trying to escape and--"

     "And he fetches how much dead?"

     "I'm sorry Gunnar--"

     "Ah, save it. You're just a right fifl, aren't you?"

     Gunnar sighed and heaved the villager's body over the side with a splash. Ulf had always been a little slow. "Go chase the wife. I'll check if there are any kids hiding in that ugly hut."

     As Ulf galumphed off, Gunnar cupped hands to mouth and hollered after him, "And don't you burn it on your way back, neither. Not 'til you see I'm done checking and in the boat again!" Gunnar dropped his hands and shook his head, "Basher of Trolls, he's that dense." 

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