After episode 14 aired, I couldn’t help but think about all the contents of the episode while I was working at my job later in the day. Why? Because it had some many things going on that I couldn’t help but think over a lot of interesting thoughts. To be honest, it’s what kept me focused and happy during my Sunday work day where the pressures always hit me. Yes, I’m strange. I’m posting this a few weeks after episode 14. That’s just how it is sometimes. So yes, this post is focusing on Vinland Saga and Christianity. There are other themes and concepts to explore like the anti war and anti aggressive Viking text that is all over the show itself too, but those play heavily into the Christianity aspect of Vinland Saga’s story telling. At least it does in my eyes.
Why does Christianity portion capture my mind in Vinland Saga? Because I am a life long Christian myself. An Evangelical Lutheran to be specific. Surprised? Yeah, I don’t really talk about my faith on here or on social media a lot because I don’t like holding it over other people to make myself look better. That’s wrong and strong misuse of religion or anything in general. Those people who use scriptures to condemn people have probably never read the bible in their lives. Why am I a christian? For a lot of reasons that I am not going to talk about on this post. If you want to talk about more about it, dm me on twitter. My religion is just something that helped me catch a few things or make the experience of Vinland Saga different for me. That’s why this is important.
Anyway, let’s talk about historical context here. Vinland Saga takes place around the 11th century AD. Over 500 years since the life of Roman Empire fell in Western Europe through the hands of Germanic Barbarians and somewhere around 500 years before Spanish Conquistadors made their way to the new world. That means we are talking about the dark ages here. Societies and countries barely exist in Europe, barbarians are all over the place killing and doing horrible things all over the place, and Christianity is being controlled by an order of monks and the Roman Catholic Church to give people a light to live on in these dark times. Yes, well before the imperial mindset of Glory, God, and Gold came to individual European nations and Martin Luther broke from the church to allow commoners to learn the gospel themselves instead of being exploited from it. So yeah, Vikings pillaging. Yay?
In Vinland Saga, Danish Vikings pillage who knows how many settlements all over England. Many of those settlements and villages are Christian. We see all this happen through the eyes of the complex Askeladd as the leader of his own band of Vikings and young Thorfinn who is seeking revenge against Askeladd for his father’s death while learning how bad war and vikings is. The first moment that anti fighting sentiment hit Thorfinn was when he was taken in by a Christian older woman and her daughter so his wounds can heal. Something that Thorfinn paid these two back with by signaling his Viking friends in the water to pillage that village. All that happened while the image of the older woman looked at Thorfinn while the raid happened. Gah, such a powerful imaging right there. Vinland Saga doesn’t hold back with its sense of feeling and horror.
The relationship that shows up in that episode explains the relationship between the Danish Vikings and Christianity itself. The Vikings being the dumb, jocks of the dark ages only think about everything else in terms of strength. In their state of mind, Thor can beat up scrawny Jesus with his hammer, so that’s why their pagan religion is better then Christianity. A mindset that easily allows all of them them to take more and more people for their food, gold, lives, and whatever else is left in the villages they attack. Christian or no. The dumb, weak Christians with their dumb religion have things the Vikings need so they just take them. Much like a jock making a nerd do their homework over and over again in school, but much worse. Gah.
That sense of weakness in Christianity is a consistent thing in Vinland Saga. The Danish Prince Canute is a Christian and he is made fun of for being a coward. At least the show makes him out to be one right now. Maybe later he won’t be. But anyway, Canute didn’t say much until Thorfinn taunted him, doesn’t want to fight so he doesn’t know how to handle a weapon, hides face all the time, and is said to look like a girl instead of a boy despite his gender and royalty status. His first important scene was him kneeling and praying before a cross immediately before Thorkell came over with his forces to capture him. Who saved Canute and friends? Askeladd’s impure Vikings. Vikings that constantly taunt Canute’s priest about all aspects of his religion and how it isn’t strong. Kind of interesting how it was Christianity that made it’s way around the world in horrible conquest and imperialism later in a way that stuck isn’t it? But anyway….
I was always confused by these villages not having weapons on stand by considering the nature of the world. They are going to get attacked, so why is defending themselves a crime? Not dying shouldn’t be a horrible act in the face of god and the great danger out for them. Then I thought about that a little bit and I am pretty sure that Christianity is being used as one form of innocence and peace in this show. Innocence and peace that Thorfinn needs to learn for himself just like how his father Thors’ death was a catalyst too. A catalyst he didn’t understand until much later after his fight with Thorkell. Look at the victims involved in this conflict that you are either helping with or not stopping are mostly apart of one religion. Given the nature of the show, I wouldn’t call this completely inaccurate to history. Maybe embellished a bit, but that’s ok for a historical work like this to make it’s own interpretations.
Yet despite the innocent and pure interpretation for Christianity in this series, Vinland actually understands some aspects of Christianity. Does that sound surprisingly from something that came from Japan? Instead of using Christianity as the bad guys in their story here, using Christian elements as an aesthetic because it looks cool, or using the symbolism of Christianity for reasons, the writer understands the most important aspects that is still taught today. What is that aspect? Deeper love for everyone. Canute’s drunken priest seeks a love that goes beyond words and connects people. A love for your fellow man that can’t be explained. That’s the core of Christianity right there and is still taught in churches now even if we as people never fully meet that qualifications or are able to do that mentally ourselves. Everything else that happens in a church service, the songs and prayers and sermons, are an extension of that concept and it’s something that makes me like going every Sunday.
That being said though, Vinland doesn’t completely own the idea of Christians being the only peaceful people out there. Let’s talk about Thors, Thorfinn’s father. In a universe of Vikings that exist just to cause havok all over the place, Thors leaves behind his killing ways in the beginning of the series. He’s also not a Christian, but the strongest Viking that ever lived. He killed so many people that he got tired of getting blood all his hands and the smell and feel of blood bodies and decay everywhere. It didn’t take him finding Christianity for him to turn better, he did that by himself and that’s honestly perfect. He’s not pure, even if he wants to be which works with Vinland Saga’s themes. By quitting combat, he became a better person. After his escape, Thors became a man that wants to give slaves their dignity back by freeing them from slave owners before they die and allowing them to die free. That’s a powerful thing to do.
The best part is that he’s not the only Viking like that. His wife is a kind, strong woman despite her sickness who wants peace too. Plus, Leif Erikson is a navigator of different lands, not a fighter. These three Vikings and their kids are all such rare breed of people living in a village of Vikings that want to go off to war because it’s exciting. A village, not the world as a whole. The only other peaceful Vikings are Prince Canute and his handler Ragnar who are Christians. Crazy to think about isn’t it? I’m sure there are other Vikings that don’t want to kill people and live in peace out there in Vinland Saga’s world who aren’t Christians, but the show doesn’t spend time away from it’s main cast because that would be horrible storytelling to do that. I mean, as a fan of well crafted narratives, I wouldn’t want to spend time away from my main cast either unless there isn’t a main cast.
In Vinland Saga, being Christian means you are peaceful. Does anyone really need to be a Christian to notice that in the show itself? No, not at all. Exactly like how people don’t have to be Christians to be good people in our world. (A truth more people/Christians need to understand.) Having that religion behind them doesn’t make the Christians flawless people either. We could easily look at Prince Canute’s priest when it comes to this. Why? He drinks alcohol all the time and constantly spouts a lot of nonsense because of it. We could also talk about Anne in episode 14 who stole a ring plus the kinds inside her house questioning why they are believing in Christianity in the first place. Everyone comes off as a human being in this series with flaws and all. The Vikings themselves are just more horrible then the rest of the people in Vinland Saga, which is the point.