Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Courtesy and honor in the Viking's SCA

Deroch, and another non-SCAdian friend Justin, posted a very intersting topic when I solicited blog post suggestions today. Justin asked my "thoughts on chivalry, or whatever honor codes (written or unwritten) that you are bound to in your sport", and Deroch expanded that with "You are a Viking. You play with an organization that has its mythological roots in the Age of Chivalry. How do you reconcile the two?"
Excellent topic!
Within our game in the SCA, our combat is based upon honor. We do not have referees judging blows, each fighter judges for him or her self when a telling blow has landed. Nobody else is in my armour... it is up to me to judge, and call the shot good. This makes for a society where your honor and reputation are very precious things, to be safeguarded. A reputation as a "rhino"... somebody who ignores good shots... can precede you, and you can quickly find that your wordfame tarnished.
This fits very well with my persona of a turn of the millennium Icelander. Honor in this time was a precious thing as well... a man was defined by his actions, and a man who was known as honorable was one to have as a friend and companion. Courage in the face of the enemy was valued, but it was more than that. A drengr... man of honor... was brave and noble, and was expected to show respect, generosity, and great personal honor. To be dishonorable and cowardly was to risk being declared níðing... without honor. A níðing was an outcast, and would be hard pressed to find haven. One could be declared níðing for a variety of things... oathbreaking, cowardice, killing kinsmen or defenseless people.
Our combat would be very easy for a viking to understand as a duel of honor, and would almost seem familiar. They had a ritualized combat called holmgang, dules of honor to settle disputes, which were fought in a marked space, and by a very specific set of rules. Compare that to our system of fighting in a list, for honor, glory, and advancement... it would not be a far stretch.

This is how I reconcile my place in this Age of Chivalry... at it's base, it is honor, pure and simple. I am a heathen in real life, I follow the gods of this time and place (though my persona, interestingly enough, would probably have been baptized a Christian by Icelandic law of the time). Tyr is my patron, and he is the god of honor and justice. I do my best to act honorably in all that I do, and not disgrace my name.
Cattle die, kindred die,
Every man is mortal:
But the good name never dies
Of one who has done well.

All that said, there will be some who read this and say "What propaganda! In reality, the vikings were vicious, and there are lots of stories of horribly malicious things they did!"
Yup. Absolutely. However... the same can be said of knights, the good and pure paragons of chivalry. Our game is about trying to live up to a romanticized ideal. I am simply doing the same. :)

1 comment:

  1. Many of those stories of viscous, dirty, horrible invaders had a vested interest in portraying themselves as pious, virtuous, victims. Did the Norse perpetrate some terrible raids? Yes, they did. But so has every other army ever assembled. History is written by the winners and myth is for the heroes.