Who better to educate us all than the famed historian, professor, specialist in the archaeology of shamanism, and Sweden's favorite English intellectual, Neil Price?
His latest book will weave a spell on you with its in-depth research, analysis, and scope covering what many other historians would overlook or dismiss as an "airy-fairy" topic.
Famed historian and professor delivers again
Uppsala University is one of Sweden's most prestigious and oldest centers of learning. It can trace its origins back to the Northern Renaissance, founded in 1477.
As the oldest university still in operation in the Nordic region, it has become a byword for academic excellence.
It should be no surprise that Neil Price, the famed author, is a member of the staff.
A professor in Uppsala's Department of Archaeology, Price has been crafting excellent books focusing on all aspects of the Viking Age since 2002.
One of his most exciting works, however, is The Viking Way: Magic and Mind in Late Iron Age Scandinavia.
Aside from the fact that this book is about, let's face it, something that we moderns regularly dismiss as the stuff of make-believe and children's playtime, this is a riveting read.
We know so much about the Viking Age – partly because Neil Price has gifted us so much knowledge in his other books – thanks to the vast archaeological record those early medieval Nordics left us.
However, there is little historical or archaeological record or detail about the practice or use of magic and sorcery, especially the widespread use of seiðr (a form of prophecy and fortune-telling) in Viking societies.
Luckily for us, Price has dedicated an entire book to uncovering the secrets and workings of mind and magic during the Viking Age (c. 750 – 1066 CE).
A magical tour de force
Given Price's archaeological background, he grounds (no pun intended) all of his research with the bare bones (ok, pun intended this time) of archaeological research.
He shows us how recent archaeological digs, their discoveries, and interpretations have helped reshape how we think about people in Viking societies.
Woven throughout his book are nearly 200 examples of magic-related items that have been unearthed.
These range from silver "weapon dancers" protective pendants found in a female grave in Birka, Sweden, to the remains of what is believed to be a "magical" staff from the Viking era, discovered just outside Dublin, Ireland.
Price gives us a detailed overview of the entire Viking world and its relationship with magic.
Given his specialization in the archaeology of shamanism, there is a fascinating pitstop in the northern Nordic region where the Sami people reside.
Traditionally, their spirituality is embedded with animist shamanism, which was believed to have influenced and inspired forms of worship in the Old Norse religion.
Price draws parallels between the spirituality of these Sami and how they continued to impact and influence the spiritual beliefs and practices of people in Viking societies.
Spirituality, religion, and magic were all such ingrained parts of Viking societies, yet there has been a disappointing lack of focus on their interconnection until now.
Early in the book, there is a heavy focus on seiðr.
Here, Price scours the various Norse myths, sagas, and skaldic poems to illuminate how people in Viking societies (and their later medieval ancestors) thought about this form of magic.
Price has also uncovered references to this form of magic in early medieval law codes.
These are the ancestral foundations upon which many a Nordic country has built its legal framework today!
Aside from magic, Price also details the extreme variety of spiritual beliefs throughout Viking societies and how conceptions of body and mind, gender, and sexuality were more malleable and fluid than we have previously thought.
Perhaps the greatest gift that Price bestows on us in this book is to reinforce the fact that for people in Viking societies, magic was as ethereal and omnipresent as air.
It was a part of everyday life and was present in every situation and location, from the domestic sphere to the battleground and everywhere in between.
- READ MORE: The role of magic in Viking societies
This magic is present everywhere, from his analysis of sexual eroticism and performance to the role of berserkers on the battlefield, from "queering magic" to female healers in Sami society. Price pulls every rabbit out of the hat in this award-winning book.
By the time you finish this masterwork of his, there will be no doubt in your mind that Price's recent receipt of the Thuréus Prize from the Swedish Royal Society of Sciences is highly deserved and warranted.
The Viking Way: Magic and Mind in Late Iron Age Scandinavia by Neil Price is available for purchase on Amazon here.
Feel free to reach out to discuss potential stories that may be in the public interest. You can reach us via email at firstname.lastname@example.org with the understanding that the information you provide might be used in our reporting and stories.