People on the Shetland Islands still celebrate their Viking ancestors during the annual “Up Helly Aa” Fire Festival. (Photo: warosu.org)
The Vikings had a close relationship with fire. They believed their world, and everything that was in it would end in Ragnarok: The age of fire and gravel. Their enemies had the honor of suffering the same fate, while the Norsemen believed the flames protected them against revenge of evil powers.
Fire and water were also the boundary between the living and the deceased, and the Vikings placed their dead in ships, along with slaves, valuables and weapons – and set the ships ablaze.
According to the sagas and other sources, the Norsemen were notorious arsonists and burned both enemies and their own deceased. A common part in all sources is that they burned everything they came across: Monasteries, castles, churches and farms.
They burned down villages in England, France and Spain if people did not buy themselves free, and in many cases they burned them anyway.
Among Muslims in Spain, they went under the aptly name al-Madjus – “Fire Worshipers”. This is also a word for heathens not following the only true God, but the Muslims probably had noticed the Vikings’ relation to arson.
On the Vestmannaeyjar archipelago, off the south coast of Iceland, residents still celebrate midsummer the same way as their Viking forefathers: With fire, song and alcoholic drinks. (Photo: National Geographic Stock)
But, why did the Norsemen kill so many with fire?
Fire was an important part of their beliefs, and the Vikings cared little to conceal the traces of their crimes. Moreover – if a looted building was burned down, one could feel confident that evil spirits would not punish and avenge themselves because fire was also considered the best protection against witchcraft and dark powers.
Text by: Thor Lanesskog, ThorNews
Sources: ”Vikingenes Erobringer” Magazine/ Vi Menn, October 2012, uphellyaa.org