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A Web of Vikings

May 25, 2015

Fact 1: There’s a Youtube channel I’ve started following recently called Alliterative. It plays to a lot of my interests: linguistics, history, odd connections, occasional terrible jokes… and presents them in the form of a web. If you’re anything like me, I recommend it.

Fact 2: A couple weeks ago I found myself on a ferry for a couple hours with not a whole lot to do. Didn’t want to read, didn’t want to boot up my laptop at the tiny table I was sharing, couldn’t do a proper world-building free write because I’d covered all that on previous ferry trips.* Instead, I sat down and sketched out a web of the connections I’m drawing from for my novel project, to see if there was anything I might’ve missed or could use.

Fact 3: I know some really, really odd and eclectic things and am sort of an information sponge.

Today, in the spirit of Alliterative, I’m going to share one of the concept threads from that connections web. (I’ll probably share the whole thing at some point, but I’ll need a couple more ferry rides to get the thing readable.) Since this is a written medium, however, I can’t quite manage a web itself. Instead, I’m going to present facts in a sort-of, kind-of story.

Here goes. I hope it works.

In the early Middle Ages, there were pagan warrior-trader-farmers in Northern Europe who we now call Vikings. They worshipped a pantheon headed by Odin, a semi-trickster figure who shares an appearance with wizards and Father Christmas. (Odin had two ravens who brought him news from all over the human world. Raven is an important trickster figure to the First Peoples of the Pacific Northwest coast. Neither of these things surprises me since ravens are freaking smart and also kind of goofy.) The Vikings sailed their ships west to Newfoundland, east to Russia, and south to Galicia and Constantinople. They also, of course, resided in Denmark, from whence we probably get Beowulf.

Denmark is also home to Hamlet and Tycho Brahe, astronomer, alchemist, and owner of probably the world’s only castle elk. (There is a theory that Hamlet is actually a story about dueling astronomies, partially supported by the fact that you can see Elsinore from Brahe’s castle.) Brahe spent a number of years in Prague, where he was a few years too late to run into a fellow astronomer and alchemist, John Dee. Prague is also home to the oldest working astronomical clock, and to the Golem of Prague, which links us to Judaism and the Kabbalah.

On the Hamlet front, we get Shakespeare and Elizabethan England, and connections to John Dee again and to Sir Francis Drake. There are more depths and connections there, pertaining to Shakespeare’s sources, piracy on the Spanish Main, and exploration in general, but that’s a side story I don’t want to get into today. Time, you know? Even if exploration does link us back to the Vikings.

Heading back to Denmark, we have Didrik Pinning (explorers, again!) and also the Gundestrup Cauldron, which was probably brought back from a Viking raid and is possibly Celtic, possibly Thracian, possibly both. The Celts lead us to Salzburg, literally “salt mountain”, home of Mozart and a city-state governed by archbishops. The Celts started the first salt mine there, and salt was one of the most important commodities anywhere, pre-refrigeration. (Thrace leads us to Greece—not going there—and Turkey, which connects us to Çatalhöyük and Göbekli Tepe. If you believe Gavin Menzies, those connect us to Minoan Crete, and it’s a short hope from there to Atlantis. And we’re back to Greece again, both in location and historical sources.)

And that’s it for connections for today, I think! This is what I love most about history, I think, the way everything we know just butts up against everything else all the time. (My next biggest love re: history is the little moments where the facts recede and all I see are people, doing petty people-y things.) And no, this particular thread has no bearing on my novel at present. It just intersects with some threads that do.

PS – If you’re not sick of historical connections yet, here’s a video from Alliterative:

* BC Ferries is good for something after all! And yes, that was a bad joke. Sorry, BC Ferries.

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