The next volume in the Viking and Norse series is nearing end of first draft. Writing non-fiction is wonderful, but it takes a lot more time to get a book – at least a book that aims to be a useful resource – done. This blog introduces the book in progress and reveal some of what this series is an important undertaking for me. The following is an extract from the introduction.
The Nordic World
The Nordic world was one based on a belief in gods. The gods were divided into two groups: The Vanir under Freyr and the Æsir, people who had as their leader one called Othinn, or Odin. We know the gods from myths and the myths we know as fantastic tales, stories told in the past to children explaining how the world came to be and how it functioned, what our place was in it and how our fate was decided, and where we go when we die. How these gods came to be in the world, for the Norse called ‘Middle Earth’, was told in the tales of creation.
What of the gods weren’t gods at all, but were myths created from the tales of real people? And what if these real people, were the ancient bloodlines that came to us through the few, scarce sources that survived centuries of pillage, fire, theft and destruction?
In this second volume, we go back in time to the pre-Viking age, to the time where we know very little, since in an Age when everything committed to script was undertaken by the few, when works perished. We call the times after the end of the Roman Empire the ‘Dark Ages’. These times were not as dark as we would believe, but remain dark to us, since we have so little written material to rediscover the past. From the abundance of records from the Roman era, the written history of northern Europe is reduced to a trickle. The farther north we go, the less the written evidence available. Until, crossing from Germania into Scandza, the lands of the realms of the gods, the trickle stops altogether.
Moving on from beliefs about the underworld and the afterlife, we enter the wonderfully obscure zone where myths begin and where history isn’t told, but can only be glimpsed, but only if we squint our eyes, so we can hardly see where we are looking. Discovering who these people were, people who became Nordic gods has been, in the words of one Historian,
“like moving from a room lighted by the occasional flash of a dying fire to one where we have to grope in absolute darkness.”
The sources are few and what accounts there are, are often contradictory. However, out of the mists of time, it is becoming increasingly possible to place the traces of the legendary past into some kind of order. As online resources continue to grow, so does our collective knowledge of the past. We can relate one old book to another without ever having to move beyond the comfort of our chair.
This is a quest of discovery and rediscovery where I hope to unlock a little of that vast resource and bring it alive.
The lands of Scandinavia and Northern Germany were literally littered with many different tribes, each tribe ruled by its own King, tribes fighting for scarce territory and resources. Today we look at maps and we see nations. In our age, the nation is the unit that defines who we are, what language we speak, how we dress and what we do. This was not always the way.
In the time during the end of the Roman Empire, Europe was divided into micro-tribal territories. Tribes fought each other for land, men battled and died and life went on.
To understand this reality of the time, we have to imagine we are not of a nation. Imagine we belong to ‘our territory’, that our chief is our King, but one who holds sway over a land that can be covered as far as a horse can ride in a day or two. That is our reality.
Next to us, are cousins. We understand each other, but their dress and dialect is a little different. They are them and we are us. We do not belong tho them, because they live over there and are different. Next to them is another tribe, one we may find harder to understand, and they us. And on it goes, the landscape we know today dotted with tribal lands, from the Cimbri in the north of the Cimbrian peninsula, the Fundusii, the Charudes, the Chali, Cobandi, the Sabalingii, the Sigulones, all were tribes working our way down, before we even get to one we do know, the Saxones, the Saxons and the Teutones, the Teutons.