Have you played Skyrim?
Not sure if that was a nod or a headshake, but if yes, then GOOD ON YOU! It’s one of the best games ever, no?
If you shook your head at that, or just plain haven’t played the game, then go play it until you are satisfactorily cured. I can wait.
Okay that took a little bit longer than it should have. I think my hair may have grayed a bit while you were off adventuring, but I can’t be certain in this lighting.
See what I mean though? That game is a masterpiece and totally worth it.
While you were there, did you happen to notice the design of the Amulet of Talos?
You know… this thing?
Huh. That looks like another thing I tend to wear, and a lot of my heathen kin wear it as well….
That, for the eight of you who read my blog and don’t know what it is (you know who you are), is Mjölnir, the Hammer and all-time-favorite weapon of Thor, God of Thunder, who is sadly known outside Heathen circles mostly to comic book geeks, though a few shirtless scenes of Chris Hemsworth later. and suddenly there’s a legion of fangirls who know about Thor too. Imagine that.
Mjölnir is widely accepted as “the” symbol of Heathenry, in much the same way as the Cross/Crucifix is accepted as THE symbol of Christianity. I could go into how I don’t think that’s fair/there’s a lot of equally distinctive or relevant symbols/the sky is blue/my neighbor hates my cat etc. but I won’t because we’re talking videogames dammit!
Skyrim, as you may have noticed, is based heavily in Norse mythology and history. There’s a race of men who are fair skinned, and typically blond or redheaded called “Nords”. They all have this honorable warrior culture, a Viking-esque way of life that’s under attack from a dogmatic empire to the South, and a pantheon of gods, among whom is one named Talos, a “Great Protector” of mankind, etc etc. There’s a lot of viking words (let me know if you also squee’d when you saw your first Draugr portrayed even somewhat accurately) and viking-esque words, blah blah blah. There’s enough of this stuff that after a while, you might feel like you are playing “VIKINGS: THE ROLE PLAYING GAME”.
But you’re not. You are playing a game based on an amalgam of a few different Northern European cultures, most notably the Celts, the Scots, and the Norse, but there’s a bit of the German Tribes thrown in for good measure as well. Playing Skyrim will not win you your easy A+ in Norwegian History Class.
It may however, spark something that can endow you with a further passion for Asatru.
I first played Skyrim when it came out at a friend’s house. I was still Christian then, but ’twas my waning days in that chapter of my life. I fell in love with the Viking feel of the game. I immediately recognized the Stormcloak rebellion as more Scottish than Vikings and the Draugr are a lot more killable then they are in the myths and holy shit that’s a lot of Fantasy Racism in a single game (the only good elf if a dead elf, say the not-Vikings) but WHO CARES? THIS GAME IS SO AWESOME I WISH I COULD PLAY IT FOREV–
Yeah, I really love this game.
I also came away with more than a few misconceptions of Vikings, as I was examining an amalgam of Vikings and other cultures through the lens of Western Popular Culture, where when Vikings aren’t bad, they’re downright cool, and often portrayed as both (this is starting to change however– the bad guy vikings bit, thankfully!). Most people would walk away with their misconceptions, never paying it much mind. But see, I was fascinated. I wanted to learn what was behind this awesome amalgam.
It made me a better heathen when the time came for that, because I’d done research, on the “just for fun” side of the homework scale. Granted, Skyrim didn’t teach me any usable lore or anything meaningful like that, but it opened my mind and made it more receptive to the Aesir’s “message”, I suppose.
With that in mind, I’d like to consider openly some tonal and topical similarities between the land of Skyrim, home of the Nords, and our history, lore, and reputation as Heathens, or at least my top 5. These aren’t meant to be used as serious research, so don’t use this as a homework guide. This is just stuff that I have noticed in my 180+ hours of gameplay, or my favorite bits of it anyway.
5. Talos: The Man, the Myth, the Holy Crap He’s A Freaking God
Yeah, that Amulet of Talos REALLY looks like a Mjölnir. And you know what? Talos, and his legend, sound a bit like Thor the God meets the Catholic dogma regarding Thor and the Aesir. Talos began as a warrior-lord from the old continent of Atmora, and became known as Tiber Septim, the First Emperor of Tamriel. After his death, the Eight Divines chose him to join their ranks, and he became the guardian deity of mankind.
To compare, according to Catholic priests who were converting the Norse, they claimed that the gods they worshiped weren’t REALLY gods, but ancient and otherwise forgotten kings of such fame and renown that their legends had become so exaggerated that their descendants worshiped them as gods, which, for some of the more pragmatic Norse in their audience, seemed to be plausible enough. Talos in the game represents something of a middle ground between Thor, the chief warrior guardian god of Midgard, and the Catholic propaganda of an ancient warrior king worshiped as god in the then-modern day.
4. The Thalmor: A Nazi Spanish Inquisition laced with a heavy dash of “I hate your guts, go die in a fire”
With their black robes and absolutist ways (killing or imprisoning any who disagree with them in the bitter watches of the night), they scream Gestapo. Their focus on the “heretical” followers of Talos however, brings to mind the Inquisition. Dealing with either the Inquisition or the Thalmor, one should never under any circumstances expect to face a jury of your peers, or even expect a trial at all (or at least never one you will stand the slightest chance of being alive after). They act outside the regular legal process and justice system, answering only to their own higher power, freely abducting/arresting anyone they accuse of any crime with little or no proof, and the local Jarls and authorities are powerless to stop them or risk becoming victims of the Thalmor’s twisted justice themselves.
Just as the Vatican Inquisitions existed to silence those who were in opposition to the Holy Roman Empire (and by proxy, the Church, the real power in Europe at that time), the Thalmor silence the “heathens” who worship Talos in many of the same ways, and with the same evil efficiency.
By the way, I kill these guys without mercy or forethought every time I see them wandering the roads of Skyrim. You should too. Nazis? Bad. Inquisition? Bad. NAZI INQUISITION? Pray tell, why are you not getting stabby yet?
3. The Companions of Jorrvaskr: Pop Culture Vikings
The Companions are pretty much how western popular culture currently views Vikings, and somewhat by extension, how it seems to view modern Heathens. They are a fierce and tight-knit group of fighters, hunters, brawlers and drunkards who value gold, courage, honor, and mead. When on a job, they are tackling the most difficult battles and hunts around Skyrim for gold and glory, and when they aren’t, you can find them in their mead hall, getting piss drunk off of the local mead and ale.
They are mighty and awesome, civilized in their own way and adhering to some vaguely defined warrior’s code of honor (which is never described in any sort of detail), and never fully tuned to “modern” sensibilities with the result that while they are respected, they aren’t necessarily liked.
ALSO THEY ARE WEREWOLVES.
You know. Kind of like Vikings and Heathens tend to be portrayed today. While I’m sure there are fighters, hunters, brawlers, and drunkards among our noble ranks, most of us are just blokes and blokettes who are no different from everybody else and trying to get by in our lives, thank you very much.
The mead IS good though.
2. The Dovahkiin is every forgotten Hero of Legend ever
The Norse had a thing about heroes. It’s not a question or an observation. It’s pretty much fact. Crack open the Poetic Edda, the Prose Edda, or any of the Sagas. You’ll find heroes crawling out of the woodwork. Whether it be Erik the Red or Beowulf, heroes were held in high regard, whether they be historical, like Erik, or fictional like Beowulf. Heroes gave the people thrilling tales to pass the time, a means of imparting history and morals to their children, and providing a higher role model for those children, all at the same time.
In addition, the corruptions of history (poor record keeping, lack of writing to preserve a largely oral tradition, and an invading culture that really didn’t like pagans staying that way) ensured that many of the Norse heroes of old will remain forgotten by modern minds forever.
The Dovahkiin (your player character in Skyrim) is all of those guys. You can name him/her whatever you want, but at the end of your life, nobody will ever remember your name, no matter how grand or glorious your deeds.
They will remember what you did forever, but over time, your character’s name is doomed to be forgotten by history, and may even in a thousand years’ time be regarded as a myth that was made up to thrill the common rabble with tales of heroism. Talk about never being able to catch a break. You save the world from hundreds of unspeakable evils, and they reward you by forgetting your name.
Thanks a lot, History. At least you’re not wanting for company.
1. Skyrim has a book called “The Poetic Edda” that contains pretty much every song and tale ever penned by the Bard’s College.
You know. Sort of like THIS, just on a slightly smaller “we had to fit it in a videogame’s minor quest” scale.
Also known as “not even bothering to hide your inspirations anymore”, but in the best possible way.
So there you have it. It’s not the most accurate portrayal of Norse culture/history/lore you’ll ever find, but at least it’s more respectful and faithful to the legacy than Viking: Battle For Asgard…