On Friday I had the happy experience of finding and reading Neil Price's "The Archaeology of Sei∂r: Circumpolar Traditions in Viking Pre-Christian Religion," which I found while "surfing the net." (Many thanks to Dr. Price and to Brathair for making it available. The academically affiliated have no idea how much we ivory-tower refugees appreciate the access to papers and such that would otherwise be out of our reach.) The paper served, for me in any case, as an introduction to Dr. Price's work on shamanism as well as Viking age warfare. It pointed, at its conclusion, to the possible existence of a type of Viking-age battle magic that drew on both shamanic traditions from, presumably, the Sami and other northern neighbors, fused with the organized, larger-scale warfare of traditional Germanic societies.
On Saturday I was treated to my children's first swim meet of the season. Perhaps it was the unrelenting sun beating down on my head, but I found that the various "battle rituals" associated with the meet provided me a different point of access to Dr. Price's paper.
Dr. Price, and other eminent researchers, please don't be insulted! Obviously, you have made it a life-long goal to gain greater specificity, deeper knowledge, and a more thorough understanding of your subjects, and perhaps the type of observation that I am making will offend in its tendency to generalize or trivialize...but hear me out!
There was an air of expectation, excitement, focus. The pool was clean, still; lanes marked, chairs rearranged, flags flying, victory signs mounted, concessions displayed. Warm-ups and last minute strategies were completed. Then the chanting commenced. The swimsuit- and swimcap-clad, goggle-eyed figures looked elemental, dancing and splashing in the fractured, glittering water, lit by the sun. There were innumerable cheers. They began softly, grew in volume and pitch and ended in hooting and body percussion. Then the teams retired to the secrecy and darkness of the locker rooms, where veterans taught the novices some new cheers. Soon the swimmers emerged covered with geometric war paint and the team names inscribed on backs and chests. More huddling, chanting, and finally the boys with letters on their chests dove off the board, one by one, spelling the name of the team.
True, there was no magic or shamanism in evidence. But my children did perform feats that I hadn't thought possible. And a non-military person like myself, who, I must also admit, has never been on a sports team, gained perhaps a little bit of insight into a culture of long ago and far away.