How did the Vikings get high?

Originally published at: How did the Vikings get high? | Boing Boing


You say grizzly rampage? I know sometimes they dressed with bear pelts to help scare their enemies and to maybe transfer a bit of their power, but I doubt Vikings had grizzlys… =D
I think you meant grisly… =D
Sorry for being the grammar Nazi. I mean grammar Viking. I was Bjärn into this.


How did the Vikings get high?

With a little help from their friends, of course…


Kenan Thompson Reaction GIF by Saturday Night Live

I seriously could write a whole dissertation on this topic and why it’s a problem… You even have this problem with a lot of the literature on the Nazis, I’d argue - treating them like inhuman monsters rather than like human beings who did terrible, terrible things to other human beings… I find Christopher Browning to be a good antidote to that…

It’s an incredibly upsetting book, primarily because of just how “normal” the men who were essentially killing entire villages of people actually were (and how for many of these guys masculine peer pressure was a key ingredient to get them to participate in the violence when they were even given an out in doing so). That’s really so much worse than nazis being an inhuman monster - being just some regular guy who can be persuaded to kill people because of their religion/ethnicity (or race or whatever else). I think the “nazis as monsters” trope makes up feel better because we can put the violence at a greater critical distance and not have to wrestle with the violence in our own history (enslavement, genocide of Native Americans, etc).

Come to think of it, I believe that Browning also talks about how drugs and alcohol became ways of coping with their violence they were perpetrating. Not to mention the US military unofficially allowing widespread use of drugs in Vietnam… I mean, it’s almost like brutally murdering other people for no real reason is not something that human beings are actually wired to do, and often times many people who end up participating have to find a way to blot out their conciousness and sense of morality when ordered to do such things… :thinking:

I think that probably depends on the depiction? check out how they were depicted in the Secret of Kells:


Ironically enough, despite all the carnage they caused in their era, the media now presents Vikings as noble warriors and protagonists. We’ve moved so far away from their bloody legacy that Vikings are now “cool.”

I am not watching any of the shows that depict vikings, but yeah, they were more complicate than just rampaging pillagers. They also farmed, explored, and had large trade networks. Like any culture, it is too complex to water down to just one stereotype.


The banality of evil in art?




Hannah Arendt has entered the chat…


I completely agree. It’s far scarier to realize that anyone and everyone is capable of true malevolence as opposed to only ascribing pure evil to one specific group or ideology.

There’s a great book called the…

…that’s all about the concept of regular people turning into monsters. Granted, the Standford experiment it’s based on has been debunked, but the other examples in the book are incredibly salient.


I don’t think it’s an accident that so much Nazi iconography comes from Norse and Viking mythology.

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Titan boosters, as I recall.


One important distinction is that being a Nazi or a pirate was (nominally) a choice rather than a nationality or a full-fledged culture unto itself; you could be a German-born citizen who detested the Nazis or an 6th-Generation English sailor who fought against piracy.

If you were born into Viking culture you would still be a Viking even if you chose a life of peaceful farming and wanted nothing to do with the raping and pillaging.





Oops, sorry about that. It was stupid of me to post that without even checking if somebody had already made that joke before in the thread.

The short answer is – nobody knows.

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Maybe they drank reindeer pee?

Sorry, but no. The idea that Vikings used Amanita mushrooms to put themselves in a frenzied rage before battle was started in 1784 by a Swedish professor (Samuel Ödman). There are no Viking age sources that mention it, and the reason this theory has survived at all is the modern use of the word “berserk” to mean a frenzied rage.

This is not at all what the word meant a thousand years ago. Berserkers belonged to the elite warrior class in the Viking era, and often served as personal guards for Norse rulers. Germanic warrior traditions dating back to the Roman period included several animal cults, including the bear, wolf and wild boar. Trajan’s column in Rome includes images of Germanic warriors wearing wolf hoods. These members of the wolf cult were called Úlfhéðnar, or “wolf hides” (where ulf = wolf and hed = skin or hide)

Similarly, warriors of the bear cult were known to wear bearskin coats. The old Norse word for bear is “ber”, and the word “serk” was the term for a sleeveless garment. So “berserk” literally means “bear shirt”.

The conflation of the word “berserk” with wild rage comes from mythology about the ferocity of the berserkers in battle. The idea that they did this in a frenzied trance is laughable. To become an elite warrior, you would have to survive battles. This takes superior technique and discipline acquired over years of training, and you would want to be clear-headed to keep your advantage over a trained opponent.

(Viking reenactor who spends summers at an archeological museum explaining to visitors how Vikings really did things…)


How would that make you better than a pirate? The Royal Navy (and their licensed privateers) pirated all around the world. They also, unlike pirates:

Kidnapped people and forced them to serve; pirates were volunteers
Supported with force the enslavement of people; pirates freed them and they became crew members
Killed people for being gay
Didn’t have women officers
Had a less egalitarian system of sharing the spoils

Fucking navy sucked. Pirates were at least better.


I’ll add that to my already over flowing list of books to read!

Well… no. They deliberately appropriated it to connect it to pre-Christian culture…