Interview conducted by Joseph S. Hopkins over the course of June and July 2016.
In the fifth interview of Mimisbrunnr.info's Six Questions series, we interview Vigdís Sveinsdóttir, an Icelandic-Norwegian psychology PhD candidate and Viking Age reenactor living and studying in Bergen, Norway. Vigdís operates the site valkyrja.com, where she regularly posts her thoughts, photography, and research on Viking Age-related topics.
1. Where did you grow up?
I was born in Tromsø, an arctic city in the north of Norway. I spent my first few years there, a beautiful place all year round. In summertime, mum would grow potatoes, strawberries and redcurrant in the garden, and me and my older sister had a little hiding place under the porch where we kept sugar cubes in a little red box. Wintertime, we would get so much snow. My sister would drive me to kindergarten on a kicksled. With help from our parents we built snow caves that were big enough to fit us all, and lit candles. These are all treasured and unforgettable memories, yet somewhat vague and fragmented, as I was still very young when we moved further south to Bjørgvin (Bergen) where I have lived since.
2. Can you remember when you first encountered Norse mythology or, more generally, Germanic mythology? And what was the context?
My mother is Icelandic and my father learned the language, so we would always speak it at home. When I started school, I received education in my mother tongue once a week after the other kids went home.
We would not just learn about the written language, but read the sagas in normalized Old Norse, and learn about our mythology, the creation of the world, and the Æsir and Ásynjur. I learned that my name means Valkyrie (Valkyrja) in old Norse, and I identified with it from early on as my culture and background.
3. How would you describe your religious beliefs (or lack thereof)?
I would describe myself as a heathen, an atheist of sorts. I do not believe in a prime mover or intelligent design. Heathenry and spirituality are however not mutually exclusive entities. My great love for nature and life is not restricted to the physical. While my views are humanistic and scientific, I accept that we cannot know everything in terms of exhaustive and absolute explanations. I respect other peoples' religious beliefs, and appreciate others to respect my lack thereof.
4. How would you describe your political beliefs (or lack thereof)?
Being brought up in Scandinavia, I have had the luck of living within the Nordic model and the welfare state. Paying high taxes is not a problem when you do not pay for health insurance or education. I went to the same public university as our prime minster, and if I was in need of health care, I would end up in the same public hospital as her. Giving back part of a salary that I earn due to my free education sponsored by previous taxpayers, makes absolute sense to me.
In this way, my political views are on the left side of the spectrum, at least when compared to non-Nordic countries. I believe that an egalitarian society consisting of a large middle class with few outliers in either direction, is a better place to live, financially as well as in terms of crime rates, social security, public health and wellbeing. Other more green aspects of my political beliefs concern the preservation of our environment, and I have a preoccupation with things such as recycling, and what footprints I leave behind.
5. Do you have a formal academic background in Germanic studies? If not, where do you do your research on the topic?
My background is actually within a completely different subject, as I am a researcher within psychology. My deep interest in Norse culture and history is a beloved pastime and hobby. I guess one can say that my academic background still has affected and facilitated this, as I am granted access to literature and a wealth of electronic sources through the university. I also have great use of the Icelandic language when reading old manuscripts. I am a supporter and frequent user of the project Heimskringla.no, an online collection of Old Norse source material.
6. How does Norse mythology and/or general Germanic mythology influence your creative output?
My interest in Old Norse mythology and culture influences my surroundings broadly and deeply, trickling down and permeating the various parts of my life, through the music I listen to, the places I spend my free time, much of my social circle, my home, the literature I read, my photography, my writings, and my taste in aesthetics. In some cases, I cannot be sure of the direction of the influence, whether my interests and tastes have been shaped by this cultural history, or whether my identification with it is simply due to it being the most fitting and closest to who I am.
Joseph S. Hopkins would like to thank Vigdís Sveinsdóttir for her participation.