Vinland Saga and Christianity

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.

Askeladd and his Vikings!

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.

Episode 14’s prayers for safe returns.

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….

Canute, a priest, and his companion Ragnar.

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.

A former slave dies with dignity.

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.


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31 thoughts on “Vinland Saga and Christianity

  1. “Having that religion behind them doesn’t make the Christians flawless people either.”
    Yes. That line is something that really hits home with me. This was a great article and I have yet to watch this anime but I like how you pointed out the history and also again with the last line that Christians are human to. There is always that strange expectation that they should be perfect but it sounds like this anime is something I would enjoy.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. ive also found myself noticing the portrayal of christianity in this series, but im probably coming from the opposite perspective. im sure the fact that im an atheist comes out in my writings, but it’s similarly not something i plaster everywhere.

    ive actually been wondering if the portrayal you describe of christianity as a peaceful and innocent belief is imposing a modern understanding of the religion on the times. granted, its not outside of the realm of reason given that this was a time when many of the more fundamentalist doctrines of the bible would have been gated behind literacy and education. it would make sense that a normal villager would only grasp vague concepts, but many of these beliefs seem like they would be modern interpretations. but then again, maybe that’s what it’s going for.

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    1. Ah, your point of view is the kind I want to hear then 😁.

      That’s a fair argument as a form of bias, but I would like to make the argument that the mangaka was doing that too when putting the mangaka again.

      And to answer your question a little bit, during the dark ages not many people were able to read the Bible became it was so in Greek and Hebrew. Not even many local priests read it either, that were just told what to preach by the Vatican directly. That means all these people would only know the bare minimum and would accept what they were told. Until Martin Luther came around the same time as the printing press to translating the Bible in German, that was the case. So yeah, somewhat more point of view here.

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      1. yeah, that’s pretty much the point i was making with the comment about bible knowledge being gated by literacy. it makes it hard to know what a commoner might think, since they lacked the literacy to document it. they would theoretically be internalizing whatever interpretation a local priest would give, which is likely not the more nuanced interpretation of today.

        as an extra history note, i thought that this would have been around the time of the latin bible, since that would have been around the time when latin became the de facto scholarly language.

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      2. I thought that about the writing too, but have learned from my own pastor through certain talks that the old testament was in Greek and the new testament was in Hebrew back in the day

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      3. it’s probably hard to say because complete versions of the bible were likely uncommon back then. it’s more likely that you would have had translated excerpts or glossed passages, and i would expect those to favor using latin. i know that greek and hebrew are the languages of the oldest written forms of the bible, but it might actually be the opposite. i think the original old testament was written in hebrew and the new testament was written in greek.

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      4. Considering that the new testament is made out of letters sent to churches from way back in the day from important people, hard disagree on that.

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      5. given that we cant even properly confirm that greek was the original language of the new testament, i would find it hard to believe that it wasnt commonly translated at the time. also, im pretty sure the latin vulgate bible included new testament texts, and would have existed at that time.

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      6. True, but I would lean in the direction myself if the new testament being in Greek considering that’s when the Romans were persecuting the early church and they probably didn’t want they preachings to be found as easily I’m sure a lot of Romans did read Greek. Using different languages and hidden signs was common. Of course that’s conjecture.

        Anyway, wasn’t ready for this deep dive this morning so going to bow out.

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      7. With respect to biblical languages, here’s a generalized history: The OT was written in Hebrew, then translated into Greek (known as the Septuagint). Some of the Hebrew originals were then lost. Both the Hebrew and Greek OT’s were used by the Jews side-by-side by the time Jesus was born. Since Greek was the common language of the Roman Empire, the NT was written in it. By the time of Jerome (4th Century AD), the Bible as a whole had been translated into Latin. Jerome, however, thought that version had a lot of problems; so he retranslated it using both the Hebrew and Greek texts (as one does, you know). That’s the version that became the Vulgate.

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      8. Hi Scott, first of all thanks for bringing attention to the treatment of Christianity in Vinland Saga. As a longtime follower of the manga, this has been one of the things I’ve most enjoyed.

        It’s also a pleasure to know you’re another ani-Christian. 🙂

        As a medievalist, I do want to point out that the Vatican was not a seat of Church power until 1377, just 140 years before Luther’s 95 theses and long after Vinland Saga. So priests weren’t “told what to preach by the Vatican directly.” Priests in general didn’t preach at all; that was reserved to the bishops (unlike today).

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      9. The Bible at this time was in Latin. While h goes beyond just normal literacy, but the main thing still stands, the common folk had to go with what ever their priest told them it said.

        As for the modern ideas placed on a historical narrative. Christianity started as a peaceful religion. Jesus taught peace and pacifism, it was about serving and helping and loving others. It wasn’t until Rome made Christianity its official religion that you saw this start to change to a tool for power and greed.

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  3. I haven’t seen or read Vinland Saga, but that is interesting how they would incorporate Christianity in a Dark Age Europe context. That’s one aspect I’ve been learning about hundreds of years ago in Europe and how that religion was weaponized in Africa with the rampant colonization. It was certainly heartbreaking how people did that as a form of psychological manipulation to make their enemies docile. As someone who was raised Christian, it was certainly a tough pill to swallow. However, I won’t judge people on their religion. If someone has religion and spirituality while doing their best to help people, then that’s awesome. I rarely talk about my beliefs on my blogs even if people have figured out where I stand on that manner through some of my posts or with that interview I was a part of last year.

    Thanks for your honesty with this post.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I won’t lie in knowing that the power of the church back in the day was frightening considering that so many people and religions were forcefully taken in by it and that it’s effected even the branches of church that escaped from the Roman Catholics, but there are a few things I can’t break away from personally.

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  4. I like how the show captures the struggles of religion, how it can polarise people from each other, even if a certain faith is welcoming. Because the show is depicted trough mostly viking eyes , I think Christianity would indeed be deemed weak and this is a powerful depiciton of how others would reflect on it.

    In the face of so many others, that had a different minset, Christianity was such a terrifying mighty force, oftenly depicted as evil. Though that mostly goes for the catholic side of things. A religion , of any kind, is only worth as much as they are in the eyes of the beholder. Those who do not believe in god might see a christian as crazy , those who believe in the way of the warrior might see them as weak.

    I myself belief.. in the force of will.. those who have conviction can use their brain/spirit to make things happen. As such God is a being that to those who believe in it hard enough .. to some level actual exisits.. even if it’s trough noetics only. God to christians is the way to channel their thoughts and the will can actually set ‘miracles’ in motion, just like how mothers can lift cars to save their babies.
    To me that same force is not called god, but love or even raw emotions, and to a viking it might be called Thor, it is a force we shape ourselves and let exist in the form we choose too.

    A god thusly is never vindictive, it’s only the people that make it so, people want their god to be stronger and wil tend to go ‘my god can kick your gods ass’ and I do think Vinland portrays that well. I do however think it’s a shame that we can only depict relgions as being at each others throat while many of the most loyal followers of whatever way tend to be way more open minded than we give credit for.

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  5. This is such an excellently written and thought out post!! My partner is a Christian Pastor and they are a Christian Anarchist and their families were Vikings waaaaaaaay back in the day, of course, lol. I feel like this would be a fantastic show to watch with them. We have discussions on faith on all the time, various sorts and their impacts, and after reading your article, I feel there is a lot of interesting material there (in the series) to ponder over. Although, this just makes me love the series more. (I read some of the manga a long time ago, I really need to finish catching up.).

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Ah, thank you! It would definitely be a great series to watch with your partners family for sure.

      I agree with you. The more material there is to look over in the show but not as many people seem interested in looking at those aspects of the show. Which is fine because Vinland Saga is pretty great for characters and story alone.

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  6. This is an interesting review of the series (One I haven’t seen) and thank you to my partner Biblionyan for sharing it with me. I would like to hope the show has better representation of Nordic and Viking culture then them being the Jocks of the Dark Ages. This is a gross over simplification of a people who mainly worked as farmers most of the year, and went Viking during the winter months, to ensure the where able to provide for their families. Was the Nordic belief system one that encouraged fighting and war? Yes they believed that the only death worth dying was on the battle field, and to die of disease or old age was as shameful thing. But there are more to them then that.

    Now from what I gather this series is drawing a line showing that there are other ways of life aside from what you grow up learning. Which I think is amazing and very true. Growing up Pentecostal I struggled as I started leaning towards my current Christian Anarchy state of belief, this is due to it being in many ways different then a more main stream sort of Christianity.

    By showing Christians as a peaceful alternative to blood shed, shows the roots of what Jesus taught, love, compassion, and pacifism. The Nords didn’t understand this and did find it weak, but not because they where the jocks beating up nerds. But more because they just had a completely different way of life. I find this series to be intriguing and hope Biblionyan and myself can watch it soon. Thanks for your review!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It is an over simplification, but the fact the show itself focuses on mercenary Vikings who spend more time killing people taking their gold, and only making to their home port once doesn’t really follow with that sort of metric, don’t you think? Our main protagonist does come from a village like that, but he’s been forcefully adopted in this group for a semblance of revenge.

      Plus, their have been minor focusing of religion aspects on the Viking side at best with the whole “you better die with a sword in your hand” only recently appeared. Most of the time is focusing on them being good at fighting or making fun of Christianity right now though you can say all of this is in context of Thorfinn who really hates Vikings. It’s really digging into that anti war message.

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