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Smart Woman

Vikings - A Review of the History Channel Epic Series

Posted by karenandkurt on May 10, 2013 at 1:40 PM

More than 125 years ago, my great-great-grandfather passed through Ellis Island, carrying with him a family history of a long-ago devotion to  Thor, the Viking God of Thunder. Just ask each one of the men in the family who’s name comes from our ancestor, Thor Saulmanson who Americanized his given name to Thomas. I was taught that I am descended from a mighty warrior people who explored the seas and new lands, who fought and died bravely and who stubbornly changed the world. My ancients were so feared that during Sunday Mass people prayed, “God save us from the Vikings!”


The History Channel has its first-ever fictional history-based series, Vikings. It’s about to come to its conclusion for the season, but as the daughter of these mighty Vikings who prayed to Thor for safe passage upon the water, I was excited to get into the series.

And then to my amazement, I realized that this series based in the Viking world, its people and traditions, is a show about faith – faith in God as God has been known to two very different people, at the time when the Christian faith began to supplant the Norse faith, as the All-Father Odin was replaced by Yaweh, the Father of Us All.

Wow. It doesn’t spare the grittiness and thebrutality of the Norse religion but remains true to the faith of people who prayed with sincerity and hope to Frigga for healing, Thor for safety and Odin for wisdom. People who so feared the end of the world, that they celebrated it; people who found glory and redemption in an honorable death in battle. That their gods blessed the people abundantly, but still asked for animal and human sacrifice. People who knew that Loki the Trickster would both bless and curse them depending on his capricious nature.

Instead of giving shallow representations of the ancient Norse faith, we are shown people who are very alive in their faith, who turn to their gods in both desperation and celebration. Their sacred stories frame the world they live in, giving them an understanding of life and the courage to face death head-on – and giving us the viewers a context for what we witness. It is a religion alive with hope. It enables them to embrace God in full force.

To emphasis the turning point in the history of the Western world, there is a Christian monk among them. He’s brilliant. We watch him struggle to remain who he is and figure out how to live as a Christian among a Norse people. What does it mean to understand their faith and to learn the creation story of the people he lives among? How does he hold secure to his religion while helping to raise two young people in an entirely different religious tradition? Even in his doubts, his faith remains. He’s not afraid of being converted from his Christianity and no one seems to be attempting to force a change in his religion. Instead he has to grapple with the possibility of losing his faith in his circumstances – and this quietly makes him stronger in it.

God is very present in their world – Ragnor, the protagonist, sees the valkyrie come for the souls of the dead and he sees Odin walking the fields of battle. His wife, Lagertha, leads the family in prayer to Frigga for Ragnor’s recovery from his injuries and the monk Athelstan prays the psalms, offering his own request to Mary, the Mother of God, to save the man who now owns him. A man of their village willingly steps forward to be sacrificed for the good of his people, trusting that this will please their gods. Each one of them is confident that their prayers are heard, that they are living the lives God – as they know God – has called them to.

Faith supports them when their feudal lord launched an attack against their village. Faith gives sight to a blind seer and it gives wisdom to a half-crazed shipbuilder/healer.

The History Channel remarkably did not shy away from telling a faith-filled story of the Northmen and their world. This isn’t a paper cut-out practice that has been sanitized, either. Ragnor’s faith in Odin brings his strength and courage. Athelstan wrestling with his faith makes him real – and saves his life (only a willing sacrifice to the gods can be accepted and he hasn’t the faith in the Norse gods to be acceptable).

Will Odin, who has so far led Ragnor on this road, support this favored son as the new leader or will he beckon Ragnor to Vahalla sooner rather than later? Will Jesus show the Northmen that he is a living god and bring Athelstan out from the Vikings? Will Frigga heal her daughter Lagertha, grant her children, and help her to restore her marriage?  These seem to be the great questions that will move the story forward into its next season.

Faith is the great dragon ship of these Vikings, crashing though very rough seas.

Ragnor in contemplation.


Categories: Deep Thoughts

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