veien - the way of the viking warrior - tyr neilsen - glima
Veien is a Norwegian word meaning the way, path or road. My teacher used veien to describe the way of the Viking warrior. This way was based on a strict code of ethics from the Viking clan code, the Viking code for doing business, and the code of brotherhood to fellow warriors.
Veien defines the codified Viking way of life, originating from Viking values of loyalty, honor, honesty, courage, respect, strength, perseverance, discipline, industriousness, self-reliance, generosity and justice. This moral and spiritual code can be found within the 13th century Scandinavian documents of Hávamál (the sayings of the high one), the Biærköa rætter (Birka Law) and Konungs skuggsjá (Kings Mirror).
The Viking Code
During the Viking Age, there was no law against waring with other nations, just as there is no law against it today. And just as it is around the world today, Vikings had no law against piracy, as long as it was against the "enemy".
During the Viking Age, any Norseman who turned his hand to piracy abroad did nothing illegal according to Scandinavian law, so long as they adhered to the Viking code. So strong was this code, it created a Viking brotherhood during journeys of trading, raiding, exploring and carving out kingdoms.
When a band of Viking warriors undertook a sea journey to another land, it was vital that each man could rely on the man next to him to protect his back in order for everyone to survive. Warriors who went ‘a-Viking’ together considered their companions as brothers, in the most literal sense, and the Viking code these ‘brothers’ held to was all important.
Loyalty was central to Viking life. Vikings had to be loyal to each other during dangerous journeys, and no Viking would desert a leader he had promised to support. A Viking would fight to the death so that his brothers, and his wife or children would be proud of him. This type of loyalty was necessary in the Viking age, as endangering a crew mate would directly affect themselves, the rest of the crew, and family back home.
Drengskapr is the Old Norse word meaning honor. The Icelandic historian and skald Snorri Sturluson, author of the 13th century Younger Edda, wrote "Valiant men who exert a good influence are called drengr." Drengskapr was a quality of extreme importance and necessity in order for the Viking brotherhood to trust each other in dangerous situations. The word of a Viking was an oath, and once the word of a Viking was given, it had to be kept at any cost. A Vikings oath was a legal bond, and arm-rings or finger-rings were often used to seal oaths. An oath-breaker had no honor and no friends.
As every Norseman lived his life as a member of an extended family circle, if he did something dishonorable, he could easily bring disgrace and ruin to his brothers and his entire family. A Viking's honor being ruined was considered worse than death itself. Having a good reputation after death was something that could help the family for generations.
It was extremely important for each Viking to have courage. Vikings despised cowards, and Hávamál states that people should be brave in conflict, as only fools think that they will have peace by avoiding conflict. Courage was not just something to have in battle, courage was a quality needed in daily life. A Viking life was not to be wasted, but to be lived to the full. According to Hávamál, the cowardly fear everything, whilst the generous and brave live best and seldom nurture sorrow.
Respect was not given in the Viking Age, it was earned. Respect was needed in order for Vikings to live together, fight for each other and to succeed. In order for this to happen, a Viking had to respect himself first and foremost. This could only happen by making sure a person didn’t do anything to dishonor themselves.
Strength was highly regarded in Viking society. It was not something to be abused, but rather a quality to be used wisely.
Perseverance was essential to the Vikings. Success depended on perseverance, and in the Viking Age, no man was considered useless if he persevered, even if he was injured or maimed.
Discipline and industriousness were very important qualities for all Vikings. In the Viking Age it was vital to get up early and work hard and smart. All could be lost if this was not done. According to Hávamál, a sleeping wolf rarely gets meat, and the lazy rarely get victory.
For a Viking, self-reliance was a necessity. If a person did not own self-reliance, he or she was a burden to family and society. In order to be self-reliant, a person needed to have common sense. Hávamál mentions the need for common sense many times, and states that a person can never have a more dependable guide than good common sense. This highly valued skill was considered to be of the greatest worth when far from home.
Generosity was expected of a Viking. For a Norseman who travelled, it was important to know that in friendly territory, he would always have food, shelter and protection.
Justice was of paramount importance to the Vikings, because without justice, their society would collapse. Justice was decided by a Lovsigemann (law-reader), by a clan leader, or a group leader. When a-Viking, if any wrong doing was done to one of the crew, it would be righted by a fellow brother, and if a crew member was murdered, his Viking brothers would get justice by avenging him
Sometimes justice meant solving a dispute by revenge, Hólmganga (Holmgang - duel), or in the form of compensation in money. If the people in Viking society felt that justice had been denied, they would feel compelled to take justice into their own hands and blood feuds could ensue, so it was extremely important that justice was fair.
There were different rules to societies a thousand years ago, and the rugged people of the North depended on their code in order to survive in a hostile world. By following the Viking code, Vikings grew strong and successful. Through this code, each person kept to important values that created a good life for themselves and their family.
The way of the Viking warrior is not an easy path, and it can be difficult to follow such a code, but the Viking values of loyalty, honor, honesty, courage, respect, strength, perseverance, discipline, industriousness, self-reliance, generosity and justice are still worthy values to aspire to.