The news is currently full of horrific stories of racism and prejudice, and it is very easy for Viking groups to appear on the wrong side of this debate as historically a lot of Viking symbolism has been used by far-right groups and sadly there are still people today who use them this way, many of them re-enactors or followers of the Norse gods.
We want to put it on record that Odin’s Aett firmly believe that there is no room for racism or discrimination in our hobby or in our group. We welcome anyone who shares an interest in Viking history and are proud to fight alongside anyone standing up for justice and equality.
There is plenty of evidence that the Vikings weren’t all blonde haired, blue eyed Chris Hemsworth lookalikes. Records from the middle ages refer to Dubgaill and Finngaill as two distinct groups of Vikings found in Ireland and Britain, Dubgaill means Black Vikings and Finngaill means White Vikings – we can’t be sure exactly how these were differentiated, there are theories that the Black Vikings were the Danes and the White were Norwegian. The Black/White may have referred to hair colour, skin colour, shield colour or simply mean old/new – whatever the difference it shows that there was no single type of Viking. Some Vikings are described in the sagas as dark-skinned Thorhall the Hunter from the saga of Erik the Red, King Halfdan the Black, the Icelandic poet Egill Skallagrimson. Where the sagas speak specifically about other races such as the Sámi they are being guided by them, hiring them or marrying them as well as fighting against them.
We know from the artefacts that have been found in places like Hedeby that the material culture of the Vikings was influenced from everywhere they travelled – and their trade routes stretched to the middle east, Africa and throughout the Mediterranean. Finds include beads of lapis lazuli from Egypt, silks from China and spices from India. We also know the Vikings must have interacted with black skinned people as they have a word for them, blámaðr which simply wouldn’t exist if they hadn’t. Their love for imported goods from all of the known world shows that they valued and learned from other cultures. We have records of vistors travelling in the opposite direction as well, Ibrāhīm ibn Yaqūb wrote of his trip to Hedeby for example.
For me though, the most obvious sign that the Vikings had little time for racism comes from the myths. The main enemy of the Aesir was the Jotuns, the two sides were destined to fight each other from the dawn of time until Ragnarok, and yet we have story after story of one of the gods having very different relationships with one of the giants. Frey the god of peace and fertility fell for and married Gerd, the giantess. Odin has a son Bragi with the giantess Gunnlöd, Bragi was considered one of the Aesir, the god of poetry and skalds, Njord married the giantess Skadi, Loki, could be a whole blog post on his own. There was no concept of racial purity, could it be any clearer?
We can’t assume that all vikings were white, we know they interacted with black people and had no objection to unions between races. Any claims of white racial purity are misguided and speak more of the people making these claims than of the Vikings.