norse culture tyr neilsen - Photo: T. Neilsen - B. Wemundstad
For centuries, Vikings have been portrayed as savages. This is probably because it was their enemy who wrote the stories about them. Facts show that the Norse culture of the Viking Age was intricate, sophisticated, artistic, adventurous and creative.
Norsemen created the most technologically advanced ships of their day, and shortly after Norwegian Vikings migrated to Iceland in the late 800’s, they built up a well-functioning culture similar to the one they had in Norway. By the year 930, the Norwegian Vikings in Iceland had already formed the world's first parliament, the Alþingi (Althing), based on the Norwegian judicial system, which included all free people. This legal system is still used in the western world today.
The culture of the Norse people has been described as ruthless and barbaric, but Norsemen had a culture that was defined by a code of conduct based on reason, moderation and charity. The culture of the Norsemen was one of hard work, a spiritual respect for nature, and a passion for a good life. The reason that we know this, is that the Norse code of conduct was written down in the Hávamál, an Icelandic manuscript from the year 1270.
The Hávamál is one of the most famous wisdom poems in literature, and is one of the most important scources of what Viking Age Scandinavian culture was like. Hávamál means the sayings of "The High One", reffering to the Norse God Odin. The first 80 verses of Hávamál descibe how Norsemen and women were to deal with everyday matters as well as how to be spiritually nourished. Hávamál warns against over-indulgence, greed, idleness, ignorance and cowardice. It also tells us how important generosity, hospitality, honor, industriousness, moderation, good manners and good sense were to Viking/Norse culture.
Well described as the wisdom of the North, Hávamál is one of the most important documents from the Viking Age Scandinavia. Hávamál gives us insight into the honorable code and ethics of a people living in a harsh climate and and a violent world. Hávamál’s wisdom gave spiritual nourishment to the Vikings in their daily lives, their long journeys to discover new lands, and their personal journeys to discover the meaning of life and death.
I have studied the Hávamál contents for many years and am one of the very few people to have held the original manuscript. I believe that the wisdom contained in the Hávamál is as relevant today as it was for the Norse people in the Viking Age, and that there is much wisdom and inspiration to reclaim from Norse culture and our ancestors, and the era that was subsequently named after them.
People should be
Quiet and thoughtful
And brave in conflict
They should live
Happy and friendly
Until their last day
HÁVAMÁL - verse 15
The generous and brave
And rarely nourish sorrow
The cowardly fear everything
And the greedy
HÁVAMÁL - verse 48