Setting right some of the misconceptions on the Vikings and Norse life back in the Day!
Like with so many cultures and people often the media over the years created an image that was less what those people were really about and more how the media chose to portray them. And so it was with the Vikings and early Norse Kingdoms. Most of us think of the Vikings as the ravaging warriors with horned helmets and longboats setting out to conquer and pillage but as with other folklore especially with regard to the early heathens and pagans it only contained traces of truth.
For instance it has been discovered that while helmets were worn they were only worn by the few that had the means. Additionally and sadly for the image portrayed over and over in early pictures and up through the ages to modern times their helmets did not have horns. So the typical image of a viking wearing a horned helmet is a nice way to imagine them but an incorrect one.
Ah yes but horned or not they were terrifying pillaging constantly seeking to conquer fearless warriors. Not exactly on that as well. They were great ship builders and navigators of the seas. Their longboats were magnificent pieces of design engineering capable of moving rapidly in either direction. They did seek out and conquer new lands and their fighting techniques were exemplary. They even had “Berserkers” hence the derived word “berserk”. These individuals would get wound up and fired up for battle charging with apparently no fear and with so much adrenalin or ? that they appeared invincible. Upon facing those few and then having foes imaging the rest of the members of the raiding party were likewise as indestructible and crazy was a great strategy in itself. But truth be told while they were warriors, the Norse were really just farmers. They were looking for new places to farm and raise their families. Indeed family was very important to them as were other values that might leave many disappointed relative to the “heathen” images one might have. This however often holds for lots of other so called “pagan” people and no doubt was part of the “promoting of their form of life” as the right way to live. So what kind of life values did they have? Ones that many other “non-heathens” also extol indeed grew out of. They are ones that when properly presented and shown out of the movie media image are as “worthy” today as they were then, and for this descendant makes one very proud to be of “Viking” lineage.
Values & Virtues of the Vikings.
These values & virtues are derived from the ancient Norse teachings and the Asatru religion, which was the religious views of the Vikings. The main book that these virtues are taken from is called the Havamal. The Havamal contains a lot of wisdom and also gives insight into the culture and values of the Vikings.
These values & virtues fit perfectly into the Viking’s lifestyle, as one would expect since they originated from also being a warrior culture. These virtues coincide with the virtues of warrior cultures throughout the world, and once again proves that true character and honor is universal. Now, let’s delve into the virtues of the Vikings…
The first and most important virtue/value was courage. This is very appropriate because without courage, you cannot live up to your code of honor for very long. The word “courage” comes from the Latin word “heart.” It takes courage to stand for your beliefs and live according to your own code of ethics. The Vikings were known for their courage and bravery in battle, but courage applies to more than simply being brave in battle. .
Courage actually applied to every part of ones life. It take courage to do what you know is right, especially when those around you disagree with your point of view. Ones personal values may be challenged on a daily basis. Standing for what you believe take a lot of courage especially when one is in a hostile or challenging arena.
One had to have the conviction in their beliefs to stand for what one believes and live your life by your own code. Not unlike so many members of our military and so many brave American POW’s have done and continue to do.
Having that courage one should have enough confidence in your beliefs and your actions to be truthful. Truth is simply being honest about what you believe or know to be true and right. Simply put – don’t lie. It takes great courage to not give in to the temptation to tell a lie if every so small or white. This was not the way for Vikings.
Lying, in most cases, is an act of cowardice. Live according to what you believe in your heart to be right and you will have no reason to lie about your actions. If you do not think an action is right – don’t do it. If something is not true – don’t say it. The main consideration where truth is concerned, is to be truthful to yourself and your values.
They believed truth is a part of one’s life, but as with courage, they allowed for a world that isn’t always black and white. The Vikings permitted lying if one was being lied to. They understood that honor is not black and white. Actions were to be evaluated by whether or not those actions are right and originate from pure intentions.
As just mentioned truth needed to be in the context of intention. One can see from this that their values were not just a list but a well conceived hierarchy of direction. Honor thus follows courage and truth. Without honor, there can be no true warrior, or true human being for that matter. Honor likewise is not a black and white character trait. One could define honor one’s internal integrity or dignity.
Ones honor, or lack of honor, is staying true to their beliefs and living according to ones own code of honor. That personal honor is maintained by living up to predetermined ethics. Thus it is ones intentions and actions which frame ones honor and not what someone else thinks. One who lives by a code of honor, will thus have few regrets for they know that one has done the best that they can to live a life of honor with truth and purity of intention.
Fidelity meant being faithful but not in just the sense it normally is used today. Fidelity as one of their virtues referred to being faithful or loyal to ones God, to oneself and ones beliefs, to ones family, and to ones friends. The Viking will defend his family and friends no matter what the cost, because of his dedication to this virtue.
Being loyal and faithful to those that the Viking loves is non-negotiable. Being faithful to ones friends likewise held high importance as only those with honor can be true friends for it takes loyalty, faithfulness and honor to be a true friend. All others are mere acquaintances. A true Viking is also a true friend once that bond has been entered into. He will take his fidelity to his friends and family seriously, as he does his spiritual relationship with his God.
Discipline, again as part of a total way of life, refers to self-discipline. Ones virtues and way of life are not perfected overnight. It takes discipline to live according to ones code of ethics. One must live according to ones own code, rather than to the what others may suggest or the environment one is currently in. To do so one must exercise a great deal of self-discipline.
If one is going to live by ones own standards, they are responsible for and must be willing to control your own actions. Many things that are legal go against the Viking’s own code of honor, and many things that governments declare illegal may be permitted by the Viking’s personal standards. In order for a Viking to stay true to his own principles and virtues, he must develop self-discipline.
Hospitality and/or the golden rule was definitely a Viking trait. A Viking is expected to treat others with respect and dignity. You must see other people as people who deserve to be treated with respect and courtesy. The Vikings believed that sometimes the gods would visit people in human form and that in being disrespectful to strangers they could also be disrespecting the gods.
It is a part of ones own code of ethics. You should treat others with hospitality not because they deserve it, but because that is how you behave towards other people. It has to do with ones principles and value system; what others deserve has nothing to do with it.
One must work hard at whatever one does. If something is worth doing, do it well. Do it with pride and do it to the best of your ability. The Vikings looked down on those who were lazy and felt that their gods looked down on those who were lazy also. A Viking has to work hard and smart to take care of his family.
This applies to everything one does indeed ones entire way of life. One does everything with care and detail to achieve excellence and thus in an honorable manner. Mediocre acts are not acceptable. Vikings set high expectations for themselves in everything one does refusing to lower ones standards in their work or their personal beliefs.
Warriors are by nature independent beings. This doesn’t mean that the Viking doesn’t like other people or enjoy being around other people, but rather that he strives to ensure that he doesn’t have to depend on others for his survival. Indeed family was at the center of Viking life. A Viking is responsible for taking care of himself and his family; this is his first and foremost duty in life. He is never comfortable if his family’s welfare depends on something outside of his own control. His family however doesn’t stop with his immediate family but transcends to include all members of his tribe (community) and then to all other Viking tribes against others.
Being dependent on someone else for your own needs puts you in a dangerous position. Such a position can make it very hard on an individual as he may be put into a position to choose between his standards and principles or his affluence. For this reason, it is best to strive to be as independent of outside influences as possible. Being frugal and prepared for hardship, as with a long upcoming winter, was an important part of being self-reliant.
To achieve all of these previous virtues requires perseverance, but this part of why courage is ranked so high. No one is perfect and you will make mistakes. One cannot simply give up and quit when you fall short of your mark. You must persevere. Giving up is not an option.
Indeed ones code of honor is too important to allow one to give up or give in when the going gets tough. It is a lifelong way of living that is not put to the side as needed. Living this way isn’t something you try; it is something you do and become. It is a way of living, a way of being. You don’t try to be, you either are or you are not a true to this. You either have honor and integrity or you don’t. With an honorable life falling short doesn’t not mean failing, it means learning and being determined to do better next time. Perseverance is essential to this
These were the ideals that the Vikings lived by and the principles that they taught their children. They apply and are still wonderful ideals to teach children and live by today. Live with honor it is much more important than holding on to possessions!
*The values and virtues presented have been presented in some form or another on many sites and by various groups/individuals. Presenting them here in no way is meant as an endorsement of those sites/individuals. In the coming year (2019-2020), as time permits, we will research further into them including updating them with the actual passages from Havamal, etc where applicable.