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Tales of the Vikings and their penchant for rape are greatly exaggerated. They didn’t just rape, they also burned. Get it right, people! Come on!

The Vikings, also known as Ostmen, are actually woefully misunderstood. Their culture is difficult to understand by modern standards and was difficult to grasp by outsiders in Europe even at the time. It’s no wonder that many people today look at them as the paradigm of brutality. While I can’t be considered an expert history buff, (damn you, Kate Beaton!) I have heard it said that there are more reasons behind the Viking Invasions than the ones usually asserted; namely expansion of power and overpopulation. According to some sources, around the late 700’s, there were forceful conversions taking place against pagans by fanatical christian soldiers, mostly under the rule of Charlemagne. It was partially these acts coupled with the aforementioned reasons and a lack of pack ice in Scandinavia that seems to have pushed them into their famous role of pillaging. Never mind the fact that many of the Norse people often settled peacefully, shared technology and ideas, and were model immigrants, but I digress.

Old Norse culture is confusing enough and their mythology can be even moreso. The Ostmen were, primarily, peaceful agricultural folk with their own religion, system of governance, and ideas about morality. As with most human beings, however, those moral and cultural values were left up to the individual to enact. There are instances in the Norse myths where eloquence and wisdom are prided above all else. The mighty Odin hung himself from a tree and put out his eye just to gain the power of insight. There are also moments where nothing matters but strength and power which we often see in the example of Thor. The Ostmen were a group with diverse beliefs and while strength and power were certainly valued, no one was more respected than the wise and eloquent. Alongside these examples lie the many confusing interpretations of women within their myths. The Valkyrie, brave and heroic women serving as warriors for Odin, stand out as clear examples of powerful and respected females. There are also stories of shieldmaidens, giantesses, and godesses who, essentially, don’t put up with no shit. Contradictions apply to this particular area as well. There are instances of women being fought over as objects and there are many accounts of women being raped in the pillaging process throughout the Viking Age.

So what do we take away from all of this? There’s a lot of knowledge and insight to be gleaned from the myths and cultures of the past but it’s helpful to look at it holistically in the terms of the people who believed and lived in them. The Norse people were, above all else, individuals and their history has been altered and misunderstood for a long time. It behooves us to really learn about them and spend time with their stories and tell others rather than to just believe whatever we hear or see in pop culture. Learning this about the people of the past helps us apply it to the people of the present. No group is comprised of clones all believing the same set of ideals. Individuality asserts itself everywhere within humanity. Pushing the notion that everyone agreed on everything and fell into little homogeneous groups in the past muddies our thinking about the present and leads to all sorts of nasty consequences in the future.

Those consequences are what might really bring about Ragnarok and if we don’t recognize it, I’m sure Odin’s going to have some shit to say about it.

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