The Viking Society for Northern Research's 2016 Student Conference

The first page of the first issue of VSNR's Saga-Book, 1896. VSNR was originally known as "Orkney, Shetland and Northern Society, or Viking Club".

The Viking Society for Northern Research (VSNR) is hosting its annual student conference on February 27 at the University of Birmingham (United Kingdom). The conference lasts for a single day and, as the title of the conference implies ("The Vikings, Old Norse, and Popular Culture"), looks to be heavy on analysis of Germanic studies in modern popular culture, with an agenda items such as a lecture on the influence of Norse mythology in the Game of Thrones universe by Carolyne Larrington and a presentation on the role of Old Norse literature in the works of Vladimir Nabokov by Haki Antonsson.

Founded in 1892, the Viking Society for Northern Research is an iconic organization in the field of ancient Germanic studies, particularly medieval Scandinavian studies. The organization publishes a highly regarded journal, Saga-Book, as well as other items, such as translations. In addition to its annual student conference, the Viking Society for Northern Research meets three times a year.

Big Think's "Iceland is Officially Worshiping Norse Gods Again"

Today website Big Think published an article on the revival of North Germanic paganism in Iceland called "Iceland is Officially Worshiping Norse Gods Again". The article featuring a brief interview with Emory University theologian Luke Timothy Johnson. Here is a quote from Johnson as produced in the article:

A fissure erupts in Fimmvörðuháls, Iceland, 2010. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

"Christian mission has always positioned itself as a rescue operation, that people were in desperate straits, were indeed under the influence of demons. ... It is impossible to read the reflections of Marcus Aurelius ... and not recognize a profound mode of religious expression. ... It is impossible ... not to recognize that [paganism] is the furthest thing possible from the demonic. It is indeed a form of religious expression from which we can learn much, and at the very least we need to respect."

Johnson doesn't comment on Germanic polytheism directly in the short interview, rather he refers to the Christianization of the Roman Empire and Roman polytheism in the article. However, given how misinformed media coverage of Germanic Heathenry as a new religious movement has been in both left- and right-leaning American media—usually landing somewhere between alarmist moral panic to dismissive curiosity—Big Think's article is notable in its approach.

National Geographic and Slavery in the Viking Age

In late December, US publication National Geographic published an article on the topic of slavery in the Viking Age, specifically commenting on "attempts to soften the raiders' reputation". The article claims that not enough focus has been placed on the role of slavery in Viking Age society and that that slavery was "vital to the Viking way of life". A quote from the article:

A 1908 illustration by W. G. Collingwood from the Poetic Edda poem Rígsþula, in which the enigmatic god Heimsdallr visits an elderly man and woman. After he sleeps between them, the elderly woman is pregnant with the embodiment of a social class, Þræll ('slave, serf, thrall'). Image via Wikimedia Commons.

"The ancient reputation of Vikings as bloodthirsty raiders on cold northern seas has undergone a radical change in recent decades. A kinder, gentler, and more fashionable Viking emerged. ...

But our view of the Norse may be about to alter course again as scholars turn their gaze to a segment of Viking society that has long remained in the shadows."

Although aims to be as objective as possible, the reader benefits from some commentary on some of these claims. Last I was aware, these comments regarding a 'kinder, gentler Viking Age' were in response to the monastery-derived image of vikings as a mindless "pagans", carrying the torch of earlier material, such as saint hagiographies, that portrayed Christianization as a sort of light bringer of culture to non-Christian peoples. The article also lacks discussion about how the notion and function of slavery differed from the modern era and how widespread slavery was during the period beyond Germanic Europe, particularly in Arabic society (in light of the mention of Ahmad ibn Fadlan).

In addition, the article makes rather speculative comments regarding polygamy during the Viking Age, for which there is no clear evidence.

Still, the article is worth a read, particularly regarding the discussion on grooved teeth that have been discovered in sites such as around what is now Lund, Sweden. For more, albeit brief, discussing regarding slavery during the Viking Age, see this National Museum of Denmark article.