Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Honor, Dueling and Drengskapr in the Viking Age

Viking Law

Last week I had a moment to kvetch which you can read about it here.   Many times I have been accused of "a going ah-Viking" on someone or "Bringing Thor's Hammer on their head." Last week I did have a very Viking moment and righteously did bring Thor's Hammer down on some people's heads. 

This brought up a discussion about honor, shame, dueling, and keeping a good name within the Viking world. We do try to blend time honored traditions and the 21st Century in our home. 

The Vikings, also known as the Norse or Northmen, would hold honor and a “good name” as worth more than treasure. It is not how you died but how your name would be remembered in the Sagas and through out the ages.  

Drengskapr (honor) and niðr (shame) were considered polar opposites of each other to the Norse. For example the state of the dregskapr was highly admired and the actions of a drengr (someone of high honor) would be emulated and praised. Think of the qualities of Beowulf and his crew; These drengr were encouraged to be emulated by both men and women.  We often talk about in our home/hearth how in the 21st century the ideals and qualities of honor have been lost. But, society also has lost the concept of shame (niðr).  No one is embarrassed anymore if they pull a social blunder, or create a situation where they have caused pain and shame within themselves or to others.

Snorri Sturlson, author of an Icelandic Saga, wrote: “Valiant men who exert a good influence are called drengr.” It was described by Snorri that a drengr possessed bravery, nobility, magnanimity, a sense of fair play, respect of others, the strength to do what is right, and a sense of personal honor. Let’s look at the last quality. What does it mean to have a “Sense of personal honor?”

To a Norseman his “good name” even after death was extremely important, and they would become hypersensitive to the opinions of the community. Death didn’t hold any fear but having an ill word against Ones good name had to be dealt with immediately. In the 21st century words like; integrity, trustworthy, respect, honesty, loyal, non-biased or prejudice, accountable, cooperative, humble, just, good communicator, understanding and strong foundation in faith, morals and ethics have replaced “Sense of personal honor.”  I personally believe that society in the 21st century has seriously redefined what these words mean or feel that they are no longer important. Otherwise, I don’t believe the Father who became confrontational and rude towards the Boy Scout Pack Leader and other parents would have conducted himself in such a niðr manner.

Now, in the time of the Norseman it would have been totally legal for the Boy Scout Pack Leader and the other Parents to avenge their honor in a duel against this Shameful Parent. If the Shameful Parent backed down and refused to carry out his duel then his actions was considered shameful or niðr. The state of niðr was despised and the actions of a niðingr (shameful person) would be avoided and despised. However, in the 21st Century having a duel outside an event is both illegal and unfair. 

A Scorn-Pole
A Scorn-Pole was erected to illustrate a shameful treatment by an other person.
A curse against the shameful person would then be said against that person.
In this particular scorn-pole a horse head was placed on a hazel pole and then driven into the ground
A curse was uttered and the horse head turned towards the shameful person.  

A niðingr was a person subjected to hate and scorn. This person was considered an outcast from the community. These days this rejection would be considered “bullying.”

To be called a niðingr the typical causes of disgrace included: cowardice, treachery, shameful acts, breaking one’s oath or promise, or breaking one’s trust. Dishonor, disgrace and shame were communicated in various ways with the Norse. One of the most powerful means of communicating the shameful deeds of a person was through words. Certain insults and words were thought to be extremely powerful. In the 21st Century society has lost their sense of shame and disgrace. While I abhor true bullying society has gone soft. There is an entitlement and over sensitivity combine with a lack of responsibility.

We need to teach our future men and women what being a Gentleman and Lady with Honor means, even in the 21st Century. 

Bless Bless,
Viking Mom 

Egil's Saga
The Gragas -The Icelandic Book of Law
The Sagas of the Icelanders


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