Some claim that the ancient Greeks invented philosophy, but this is as much a myth as Zeus and the other gods of Athens.
And if we’re rooting a worldview in mythology, I far prefer that of my ancestors, the people of Northern Europe.
The Greeks gave us the word now used to describe a basic cognitive activity and nothing more. The ancients of Athens were not unique, and rather than invent anything of their own passed down deeply biased takes on ideas being widely circulated along the trade routes of the ancient world.
True knowledge of the deep past was largely obliterated during the Christianization of Europe, a process that swept up my ancestors some fifteen hundred years ago. But through years of research I have developed a scientifically-inclined restoration of the ethics and worldview of my ancestors.
I call it the New Viking Way.
This moniker is somewhat tongue in cheek, a mockery of the lies Christian writers told about the Vikings as part of the long ideological war Christians waged to conquer the minds, bodies, and souls of my ancestors.
This was not civilization or enlightenment, merely Roman imperialism continued in another form. The form of Christianity that came to Northern Europe was wholly tainted by an ideology of authoritarian self-worship supported by a rigid caste system that rendered most people slaves.
Most of the people whose ancestry traces back to Norhtern Europe don’t realize that the Vikings school teaches them to think were murderous invaders were in fact intentionally barbarized in written records by Christian writers who feared their power at a time of great turmoil in Europe.
Anyone raised in an English-speaking country has been educated to believe a version of history written by people with axe to grind. No less than most writers today try to, the chroniclers of the past imposed their biases on the historical record.
When people learn the full unvarnished truth about the past deeds of the nations and kings they are educated to believe they should to love and emulate, they are often rightfully horrified. Most are told the modern world is a place of freedom and opportunity, but in truth it exists on the back of brutal exploitation made invisible by the fact it is taboo to talk about important truths in polite society.
This is at the root of what drives conflicts over historical facts and what children are taught in school — what people broadly speaking accept is known about the past impacts how they think about the future. It’s why pushing a single story of history, as Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie terms it, is so deadly.
The truth about the ancient world is that it wasn’t all that different than our own. People have been cognitively modern for tens of thousands of years — bring an ancestor through time to today and they will be able to cope with the changes given time. Humans are adaptable like that, a reason why the species will probably never go extinct even if some societies do.
Almost everyone alive today is taught their ancestors were barbaric, that civilization is a thing that arises to save people from miserable anarchy. But this is not remotely true — it is a lie told to evade dealing with the deeper truths about the forces that rule the world.
Civilizations don’t even exist — there is no such thing as Western Civilization any more than there is a coherent Eastern. This is a framing device used by powerful people to focus public attention on problems and solutions that benefit the elite caste. Western Civilization is theirs, we are merely subjects to it.
This why Roman Christianity came for our Pagan ancestors, people who rightly recognized that there are powers in this world we are all subject to. Roman Christianity’s secret promise is godhood for deserving individuals, who prove their merit through displays of material wealth and power. It takes control of the idea of God — by definition infinite and unbounded — and enslaves those it can convert to the True Faith.
Early Christianity wasn’t like this — similar to Buddhism, it originated as a reaction to power inequality. Slaves and other oppressed peoples could embrace it as a way of resisting the temporal power of their overlords
But like so many good ideas, original Christianity was perverted by power. Europe after Rome was, for a time, a freer and more equal place than it had been before. Great migrations of entire peoples from North to South rewrote the political and social rules of the day — as had many a great migration in millennia past.
Naturally, this upset the Romanized urban elite who found themselves having to share power with in-migrating tribes following a traditional village oriented lifestyle. Their solution was to use the power of writing to spread stories of the evils of pagans.
The people now called Vikings weren’t a people at all. They were simply folks from communities around the North Sea and Baltic who started sailing in a new generation of ships to trade and offer their services as mercenaries.
A pattern followed by Germanic peoples going back at least two thousand years by the time written histories started to record their beliefs for posterity. Yet the fact the stories of these peoples were orally transmitted, as were those of the indigenous Americans living around the same time, has rendered them invisible to many of the historians who wrote the text books given to European children.
Now this isn’t to say Vikings were all just friendly traders who happened to get a bad rap — many were brutally violent.
And so was everyone else in the ancient world (and so too, today), especially Christian priests and the Romanized Kings they propped up, former chieftains who stopped filling their traditional role in the community that birthed them. Able to become local god-kings, they embraced Roman Christianity and turned formerly free peoples into peasant dependents.
Then they turned to conquering the nearest barbarians, people Roman Christianity held as subhuman if they did not convert. It took five hundred years, but sadly, they won — and in the process, the followers of the old ways were destroyed and their memory wholly barbarized.
This deeper heritage must be reclaimed.
Before power inequality was tied to and sanctified by a pseudo-eternal written legal structure interpreted by a self-selecting priestly caste, in many basic ways people were fundamentally freer than they are today.
The New Viking Way is my modern distillation of the ethic of pre-Christian Europe. This is not meant to be an exclusive worldview and can be followed by anyone — the ethic has universal applicability, and here is simply expressed in its Northern European flavor.
Why? Because we happen to have more of their particular realization of the Indo-European mythic traditions thanks to the relatively late Christianization of Scandinavia.
According to the old sagas, the real Vikings didn’t much care who sailed with them so long as they pulled their weight and treated their fellows with respect. I can almost guarantee that there were Black Vikings, Muslim Vikings, probably even a few wanderers from China or India who traveled the Amber trade routes to Northern Europe who became Vikings too.
The New Viking Way is a secret to everybody, to quote the Moblin from Legend of Zelda. It is deliberately syncretic, and can be adapted to any local mythological tradition because the deep historical experience of Europe is a microcosm of the world as a whole.
The deep history of all peoples everywhere is one of constant migrations — Europeans, genetically speaking, were produced by three distinct streams of genetic heritage.
First came the hunter-gatherers, spreading from East Africa. They occupied all of Europe, incorporating Neanderthal DNA into their genes that most Europeans share a little of today.
Then the last ice age arrived, forcing the first Europeans to take refuge near the warmer Mediterranean, especially in Iberia and the Balkans. Europe was cold for a very long time.
Some twelve thousand years ago the glaciers had finally pulled back and life expanded again. Interestingly, about the same time a massive explosion of creative thought was underway as the climate improved and Europe was re-colonized by these hunter-gatherers who left intricate paintings in many caves.
Around eight thousand years ago a new pulse of migration brought people from the Middle East to every corner of ancient Europe. These were farmers, and they mostly occupied fertile lowlands where they could put the new technology of crop husbandry to work.
It was a couple millennia after that, beginning five or six thousand years before the present day, that the third genetic lineage began to flow in. From Central Asia and the steppes north of the Black Sea horse-riding, cattle-herding semi-nomads with oddly pale skin and often red or gold hair began pushing into Europe.
Horses are one of the most important ancient technologies, their domestication giving riders the ability to cover far more ground than they could on foot. This naturally gave them new military options that made them extremely capable in combat — which is why these Indo-European peoples wound up migrating into Persia, India, and even China.
These three distinct groups of peoples, hunter-gatherers, farmers, and herders, slowly but surely mixed, culture, language, and mythology blending across the centuries. Europeans are probably the world’s most notorious mutts, making it rather ironic that so many identify strongly with the color of their skin and oppress others based on their own skin tone.
Running parallel to this heritage, in Norse mythology there are three primary tribal groupings that create the world we live in, Aesir, Vanir, and Jotnar.
Aesir are horse-riding war gods who perform feats to gain acclaim. Vanir are nature-loving fertility gods associated with wealth, healing, and prosperity. Jotnar are shape-shifting gods who are hard to pin down, sometimes allies and spouses to the other gods, other times their bitter enemies.
So what or who were these gods, and what role did they play in the lives of my ancestors?
People tell stories to try and understand the world and its many possibilities for the same reason they play games that simulate aspects of it in a safe space. We are all products of our cognition and bodily functions — all thought, culture, ideas, and beliefs stem from our physical form and are inseparable from it.
A god is simply a power we cannot fully fathom or control. Gravity is a god to science. Quantum mechanics is too. Science is in essence a way of bounding the Divine, ascertaining what of it is regular enough to say we understand it well enough to not question whether or not it will surprise us at a bad time.
Science never reveals truths, only more reliable information. It is properly weighed according to the usefulness of what it reveals, and intended to be shared as widely and simply as possible for the benefit of all.
The ancients called god what they could not control. This is part of why so many gods have so many characteristics in common, yet remain distinct. Each culture tells its own story in its own way, and themes evolve to suit the times, giving rise to tremendous variation oriented around the same basic life questions.
Personifying these gods is only natural — it aids in storytelling and helps people remember more clearly the vital ethical and philosophical questions myths and gods pose. I do it in Bringing Ragnarok — part of my purpose in writing such a long saga.
But these are not meant to be canonical characterizations people fight over — gods change, they have no fixed gender or race, even aspects of them fall into and out of favor.
There are many gods my ancestors held in awe — but these are the main ones helpful to think about today as you go about your life:
Odin — chieftain of Asgard, god of wisdom, war, and poetry. Goes by many, many names and is sometimes called Allfather, partly because he has lived many lives as a human (sometimes as a mother too) and is notably promiscuous.
Frygga — Odin’s spouse, god of foresight and prophecy. She is also associated with judgement and childbirth, and at times gets Odin to go down to Earth to test and punish certain individuals.
Thor — Thunder god, son of Odin and Jord, who became the spirit of the Earth. Patron of freemen and workers, Thor is a defender of freedoms and rights and a fierce opponent of imperialists.
Sif — Spouse of Thor, she is his protector and companion, in possession of an enchanted wig that allows her to change form.
Tyr — One-handed god of battle and combat. Sacrificed his hand to help capture and bind the dire-wolf Fenris.
Skadi — God of hunting and wild places, she is a bit of a loner, preferring the mountains to the sea.
Baldur — Son of Odin and Frygga, the god of light and hope, who Loke contrived to have another of the gods kill by accident.
Freyja — Leader of the Vanir, god of fertility, prosperity, beauty, and sexual pleasure. Drives a chariot pulled by two cats, greets half of the slain called to Asgard.
Freyr — Twin brother of Freyja, god of joy, celebration, and good harvests.
Heimdall — Guardian of Asgard, son of nine troll mothers who is fated to slay Loke in the Last Battle before the golden gate. Also called the pale god.
Idunn — God of healing, she cultivates the sacred apples she then brews into enchanted mead that keeps the gods and Einherjar immortal until Ragnarok.
Gefjon — God of the land, she creates the fertile soil that gives rise to healthy crops.
Loke — The trickster, a shape-shifting, gender bending and morally ambivalent presence. Odin’s blood-brother and partner in many of the gods’ most important adventures. Presently chained and tortured by serpent venom, when he breaks free the end of all worlds is on.
Hel — Daughter of Loke, half corpse and half bride, god of torment and retribution who receives the ignoble and dishonored dead.
Jormungand — Son of Loke, god of empire and imperialism, also known as the World Serpent. Ancient enemy of Thor.
Fenris — Loke’s other son with the troll Angrbotha, god of greed and power. His brood will consume the moon and sun before the end of the world.
Each type of god hails from a different World, a distinct reality with laws of nature different than the ones governing our own. This gives them immense powers compared to us, yet they too are just like we are in the end, people with their own strengths and foibles.
The primary law of our universe is that reality is created through action. Midgard, as the Norse called our universe, is the product of branching chains of cause and effect linking all matter across time.
Our lives are mere flickers at the edge of a deep and abiding flame. We exist unable to know for sure if we are phantoms of this world or visitors here on some cosmic sojurn.
What we can know with certainty is that the world we find ourselves living in today is a product of trillions of actions taken by powers great and small. Our ancestors lived their lives taking action to survive and thrive, handing down to us all the tools we have to cope with the problems of today.
The gods are our ancestors and we are their descendents, continuing a tradition as old as time, living lives that constantly create the world to come. None survives without taking action, our bodies compel us to do whatever we must to stay alive.
And as human beings, our lives are only possible through the sacrifice of others. Through our childhood, into old age, and even whenever we sleep as adults we rely on the actions of others to remain living to take action ourselves.
No one exists as an individual alone — it is our curse that we experience life this way, always subject to the strangeness of the world we inhabit together. All owe sacred obligations from birth to their ancestors and those who care for them.
The basic way we fulfill that obligation is to do what we can to make the world a better place while we have the chance. Life is a unique opportunity, and whatever we choose to do has some impact, no matter how small, on the future.
This is why the gods of old were honored with blood sacrifice — and still are today.
Every one of us will die one day. Our time, our actions, are limited.
So to use our time to improve the world is to make a very real kind of blood sacrifice to the gods. We cannot get moments back, once past they are gone forever.
But there exists a chance, perhaps a certainty, that our existence continues beyond the death of our physical body. No science can say what passes beyond the physical reality it can measure. In fact, some uncertainty, some divine unknowable, is required for science to work at all.
Science is and has always been about making reliable predictions about the future. Which is, essentially, separating random from non-random — a fundamental duality that requires something undetectable and unknown to function.
Lacking any evidence that the ineffable core of our selves, our soul if you like, is a phenomena that terminates with the death of the physical body, it is prudent to assume something of us does live on to experience a world yet to come.
And if so, given the fact that self-conscious life exists in the universe at all, it is prudent to assume it winds up back here in Midgard again in some form. Rebirth is the law of nature, after all, organisms coming into being then passing away, the physical arrangement of parts that sustained them being taken up into something new.
Why would the divine not work the same way? If it does not, and the soul dies when the body perishes, we won’t be around to experience our lack of existence, so there is no need to fear it.
This does not mean the self our soul can ever persist unchanging and immortal — the opposite is demonstrably the case. We are different with each experience, our past selves linked, yet distinct, to the present arrangement of mind and body we all call me.
Self is an illusion, our conception of it changing over time in ways we cannot fully perceive. Even souls, if they exist, must be subject to some form of change or existence would become unbearable.
The ancients across the world believed we are born into this world again and again, which is why we must fight to make it a better place as we can. How this is done is a question each person must answer for themselves — then take action.
Our ancestors believed that it is possible to escape the endless turn of the ages thanks to the intervention of the gods. Those who aspire to enter a paradise to rest and escape the cycle must sacrifice their blood to the gods who most appeal to them.
Those who the gods choose may be called after death to join them in what the Norse called Asgard, invited to dwell for as long as time lasts with the gods. Odin and Freyja send Valkyries to summon the chosen upon their death in the great war of life to serve as Einherjar, warriors sworn to fight for the gods in the Last Battle that destroys all Worlds, Ragnarok.
But the ancients also knew to be cautious. Another fate awaits those whose actions in this life bring great harm to others. The gods cannot directly intervene often, or risk damaging the fragile interlaced chains of causality that drive what we call fate.
Yet our own actions can also damage or even destroy Midgard, and so those who commit to doing great harm may find themselves summoned cruel Hel to her table in Helheim.
Where Asgard is a place of life and joy and endless riches, Hel is exactly the opposite. In Asgard, those summoned by the gods live as if they still had bodies. The same is equally true in Helheim, and the Mistress of Torment ensures all who dine with her suffer appropriately.
To our ancestors, living a good life was a very straightforward thing. They did not think in terms of morality like Christians are trained to — they did not have a concept of a global Truth all must bow to.
In the past, people lived — as they do today — in communities. Because the world is a vast place and the landscape a person is raised in impacts how they think, diversity of thought is a persistent feature of human life.
It is also humanity’s superpower, for diversity is what allows for adaptation in hard times.
Communities are defined by the truths they hold — and can agree upon. They then work out arrangements with their neighbors based on rules that are constantly re-negotiated.
A free world is one where individuals are able to choose which community to join, where to sacrifice their blood to ensure the survival of themselves and their tribe. It is the obligation of every individual to contribute as they can to the betterment of the whole and the wider world if they can.
Generosity, courage, honesty, compassion, and solidarity are the foundational ethics of humanity. In a healthy community, every person is safe and secure, no matter what, endowed with basic rights and entitled to equal treatment.
And where communities are found that don’t work this way, it is the obligation of those who can to render aid to the oppressed. For no one is truly safe and secure if the rights of anyone, anywhere, are under threat.
For power accumulates, and power corrupts. When concentrations of power are found, they must be liberated and the wealth redistributed for the good of all.
That is why I believe the best way to honor the gods of our ancestors right now is to embrace a new Viking age.
Massive hoards of wealth lay under the control of states and billionaires, the new royalty that seeks to enslave us all and render the entire planet a dead world in time. They are actively waging war against us all whether we know it or not, using history and false representations of science to force us into debt slavery, one community at a time.
The time has come to reject the moral structures and ideals they impose to keep us from bringing true freedom to all the communities of the world.
Build your Dragonship. Assemble a crew. Pick a worthy target — Lindisfarne is tapped out, but there are a couple thousand billionaires in the world.
So get prepared.
Then launch your raid.
Have faith in only one thing: that gods, and our ancestors, are watching our deeds.