You Don’t Fuck With Surtr’s Own Country

April 24, 2010

Last year, when Iceland’s Landsbanki collapsed, Great Britain invoked the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act to freeze all Icesave accounts opened by British depositors. Thus, while the British government was happy to bail out Northern Rock, it decided to give Iceland the shaft.

Perfidious Albion’s treachery was not to go unpunished for long! Six months later, Eyjafjallajokull erupted; and shut down European airspace. In what seems like divine justice, the United Kingdom was worst affected. British airports opened after six days of being shut down, well after continental Europe and Ireland.

If it is in fact divine justice, the divinity responsible is probably Surtr, the Norse fire-demon who is inspired by Icelandic volcanic activity. But even if you wish to stick with a rationalist view that does not rely on gods, demons or others, the English made a terrible mistake when they decided to screw Iceland, a country that is legendarily badass, as we can see in the old Icelandic sagas.

The Saga of Cormac the Skald, for instance, has this description of what Cormac did when someone showed insufficient politeness when offering him a black pudding:

Now, in the autumn, Narfi’s work it was to slaughter the sheep. Once, when Cormac came to Tunga, he saw Steingerd in the kitchen. Narfi stood by the kettle, and when they had finished the boiling, he took up a black-pudding and thrust it under Cormac’s nose, crying:

“Cormac, how would ye relish one?
Kettle-worms I call them.”

And in the evening when Cormac made ready to go home he saw Narfi, and bethought him of those churlish words. “I think, Narfi,” said he, “I am more like to knock thee down, than thou to rule my coming and going.” And with that struck him an axe- hammer-blow…

That’s right, he hit Narfi with an axe-hammer-blow for dissing a sausage. When vengeance is involved, things get even worse, as we see in Egil’s Saga:

Kveldulf had in his hand a battle-axe; but when he got on board, he bade his men go along the outer way by the gunwale and cut the tent from its forks, while he himself rushed aft to the stern-castle. And it is said that he then had a fit of shape-strength, as had also several of his comrades. They slew all that came in their way, the same did Skallagrim where he boarded the ship; nor did father and son stay hands till the ship was cleared. When Kveldulf came aft to the stern-castle, he brandished high his battle-axe, and smote Hallvard right through helm and head, so that the axe sank in even to the shaft; then he snatched it back towards him so forcibly that he whirled Hallvard aloft, and slung him overboard. Skallagrim cleared the forecastle, slaying Sigtrygg. Many men plunged into the sea; but Skallagrim’s men took one of the boats, and rowed after and slew all that were swimming.

They didn’t kill everyone. They kept a couple of people alive to go back to the king with this song:

‘For a noble warrior slain
Vengeance now on king is ta’en:
Wolf and eagle tread as prey
Princes born to sovereign sway.
Hallvard’s body cloven through
Headlong in the billows flew;
Wounds of wight once swift to fare
Swooping vulture’s beak doth tear.’

You get the picture. The impression conveyed is that when the Bride told Sofie Fatale that she was allowing her to keep her wicked life, she was merely scratching the surface of threatening messages.

With heritage like this, volcanic eruptions are only the beginning. When the British treated the Icelanders like terrorists, perhaps they did not realise that this could become a self-fulfilling epithet. With their economy in shambles, the Icelanders may now turn to the way of their forefathers and return to setting out in longboats and go a-viking on the British coast. Taking the names of Thor and Tyr, their depredations shall make Brown and Darling pay. Lindisfarne!

Saxon Engineering

March 22, 2010

I had mentioned in the post about my February reading that Tom Holland’s Millennium addressed the issue of how Christianity and monarchy spread throughout Europe after 800 AD. While it addresses the issue of how Scandinavia and the Vikings became Christian, Germania was converted before 800 AD, so the book doesn’t deal with that. I had to rely on Wikipedia to inform me that Germany became Christian thanks to the work of Theodosius, who outlawed paganism altogether. Constantine merely made Christianity official without actually persecuting the traditional religions.

The whole thing makes me very wistful. On Twitter, I have often said that anything will sound more badass if it is said in German; and the badassery of German Engineering is also widely acknowledged. If only the Germans had retained their Pagan religion, the sheer coolness of the cultural context would have made their engineering even more badass. I for one would delight in driving a Polo even more if I knew that Volkswagen had invoked Wotan and Donar while designing it. And if the resolution of quality defects or poor after-sales service involved battle-axes, even better. And I am quite sure that in such an ideal world, advertising would include Valkyries.

The other thing is that according to Millennium, the Scandinavians were persuaded to convert to Christianity by the Germans. So if the Germans themselves had never converted, the Norsemen (and women) would today be raising flagons of mead to Baldur and Thor.

Extend the implications of this a little further. Back in the 1950s, Jawaharlal Nehru and King Gustav of Sweden signed an economic co-operation treaty, as a result of which Pune is the India (and even Asia) headquarters for a bunch of Swedish companies. It has the offices and manufacturing facilities for Atlas Copco, Sandvik, ABB, BASF, and probably even more companies I can’t recall right now. Now imagine that Scandinavia remained pagan, but everything else stayed the same, including the economic cooperation agreement. Pune would still be a Swedish centre, except now the Swedes would now not be Protestant Christians but Vikings.

It would be awesome, especially if they joined in with the Ganesh Chaturthi celebrations. Picture a host of fur-clad berserkers escorting their Ganesh idol to the local lake; all the while chanting invocations to Vinayak… but with umlauts! And think how awesome the cheers and waves would be during the home matches for the new IPL team. Boat Club Quiz Club sessions would be even more entertaining, because every so often they would get to see a longboat bursting into flame as it carried the soul of a recently deceased expat manager to Valhalla. And assorted Marathi Manoos Senas would probably be far more circumspect about beating up immigrants if the immigrant was inclined to suddenly turn around and use the Marathi Manoos to make a Blood Eagle.

Unfortunately, it is not to be. India’s power cuts will never be addressed by a Mjollnir AB, labour organisers will not start industrial disputes in the name of Loki, and Ajay Shah will never get to campaign for full convertibility of the rupee against the gold ring. The Maytag repairman will not occupy his free time by stringing up Roman legionaries with their own insides; Krupp will not forge steel using their knowledge of Nibelung-lore, and Bayer will not patent pharmaceuticals using the knowledge of their druids.

It’s a cruel, harsh, dispiriting world; and it’s all Theodosius’ fault.

Reaving and Slaying

March 24, 2008

While in Calcutta, I went for a litquiz with Aishwarya and Pradipta. Despite four self-overrules in the prelims, we qualified; and despite a Bong-funda heavy first half, we ended up winning the quiz. I think the margin of victory was at least three questions, and probably four or more. Apparently, it’ll be reported in the Telegraph’s equivalent of Bangalore Times and stuff.

Pradipta informs me that this is the first time in years that anyone has ever beaten the runners-up (a team called the Inmaniacs), and that this will therefore cause ripples of shock and awe across the Calcutta quizzing circuit (such as it is). This was of course prophesied long ago by davenchit:

The Jin in the time of Genghis Khan were noted for their many defensive walls- rotting, all but useless against true foes, these were symptoms of inner decay. The infrastructure of Calcutta resembles that of the Jin- reflections of past glory. Reckless drinkers, weakened by the Irish influence, they are ripe for conquest. Securing this key littoral will complete the preparation for the final assault: Bangalore.

Indeed, the shock that is currently reverberating through the cul-de-sacs of the City of Dretful Night is comparable to the
wounds North India suffered after the initial Turkic and Persian invasions, the crippling blows to society faced by Great Britain after the Viking raids, and the sack of Rome by Attila the Hun. A mere raid has exposed the society’s decay and corruption; annihilation and conquest cannot be long away. Soon, Bombay and Bangalore’s quizzers will overrun Calcutta, grabbing pole positions in every quiz that takes place, crushing the locals, and hearing the lamentations of their women and children. The old order of sleazy pubs and Ambassadors shall be shattered, as new watering holes and real taxis spring up to serve the needs of Calcutta’s new masters. The Pax Quizzica shall return Kolkata (faugh!) to the state which it was always meant to be: Calcutta for the Marwaris!