The Viking Age was a long time ago. Most people reading this are living in a society balanced between Christianity and humanism, and we tend to forget that many of the concepts that dominate our way of thinking, didn’t even exist in heathen Europe. Many key concepts did, like your connection to clan and family, your love for your children, honour etc, but far too often I see «modern» concepts being attached to the heathen Norsemen and that is simply wrong. We need to understand that lots of things were different back then. So I have tried to make a list of some concepts that were quite meaningless to a pre-Christian Norseman. Here it is:
This concept came to Europe with Christianity. Sin is essentially a list of actions that are wrong or forbidden in Abrahamic religions. There is not necessarily any logic to this. Like, it’s a sin to masturbate or to be gay/lesbian. I do understand that the Jewish tribes wanted to increase their numbers and therefore the thinking was probably that all sexual activity should be utilized to make babies. But outside of that context, there simply isn’t any logic to why this and that is considered a sin. Yes, it’s a sin to kill people and to steal and there is logic to that. But most of what’s on that list is just silly, and the whole concept would mean nothing to a heathen. Also, a Norseman didn’t think he would be punished by some god if he «sinned». But that does not mean he didn’t know right from wrong.
The heathen Norsemen did not believe in forgiveness. It was not considered a virtue to them. Yes, we do know that they sometimes buried the axe, so to speak, and sorted things out in a non-violent manner, and that can look a lot like forgiveness. But the concept of forgiveness were not well understood or accepted in heathen Viking Age Europe.
The Norsemen weren’t race conscious. I know this is a hot topic, but saying that they were is simply wrong. The Norsemen were far too few to allow themselves to be picky when it came to ethnicity and archaeological finds suggest that Norse society were not as mono-ethnic as previousy believed. Please, do not use this as an argument for this or that political view. I am simply saying that racism weren’t a concept in the Norseman’s mind. The few written indications of the meaning of the color of a person’s skin are probably pointing to the fact that thralls were gray/dark because of their daily work by the fireplace.
Equality of all humans
These days, we tend to say that we believe all humans have equal worth. I don’t think many people really believe that (what about rapists, child abusers etc?), but it’s still a concept in modern society. In the heathen Norse society, both your birth and your actions were used to measure your worth. A slave were worth less than a freeman. A courageous man were worth more than a coward. And so on. To a heathen Norseman, all people weren’t valuable. The concept of default equality weren’t a concept back then.
Respect as a right
These days people lots of people demand to be respected for no reason at all other than being alive. A heathen Norseman would laugh at this idea. To him, respect had to be earned.
In Christianity, repentance is the currency you use to pay for your sins. Closely associated to this is the idea that by restricting yourself, you get a purer soul. While the Vikings certainly believed everyone, even animals, had souls, they did not believe in saying no to the good things in life, like drink, food and sex. And while shame was a concept, they did not feel shame for the same things that we do. For example, a Norseman would probably feel quite pleased with himself if he woke up after a hard night of binge eating and beer drinking, and discovered he had nothing on but some unknown woman.
Materialism as a negative thing
The Norsemen liked to own things, like land, houses, animals, even people. They were materialistic and to them, gaining material wealth was a good thing. These days, materialism is often confused with consumerism. Materialism in the traditional meaning of the word isn't negative (except the part about owning people) and high quality items that are built to last can even help enrich your life. Consumerism, on the other hand, is something totally different and I can see nothing positive about it. I have noticed that lots of people these days, even among heathens, find that mocking people who own nice things is accepted. In the heathen Viking Age, materialism was an essential part of society and a rich man or woman would never be shamed or mocked for his/her wealth, but praised.
I am sure there are other concepts that can be added to this list. Hopefully, this blogpost will help us look at heathen Viking Age society and also ourselves with a better perspective. Which concepts would you add?