By Eric K. Haggstrom (via AreWeEurope)
Norway has recently been labeled the happiest country in the world. The nation has amongst the planet’s most developed workforce and has a very high rate of adoption of emerging technology. Yet, it also holds in its air hints of an old world that drag one far into the past; into the lands of fire giants, runes and ancient ice. At the center of these anachronisms is the resurrection of Norway’s pagan past in its rapidly expanding creative industries.
Back in the early 1990s, Norway’s heavy metal musical exports largely dwelled in the fringes of extreme music catalogs. Those initial explorations into the grim and frostbitten recesses of metal birthed the cult that rages today. With global interest in the “Northern Mysteries,” paganism, black metal and neo-pagan music at their respective zenith, what was once an esoteric niche is now a powerhouse of nationally celebrated creativity. Norwegian bands like Skuggsjá, Wardruna, Enslaved and Gaahl’s Wyrd are seizing this moment through concerts, musical releases, workshops, and outdoor festivals. In the case of Skuggsjà, the band wrote a musical piece that follows Norway’s Norse History and was commissioned in celebration for the 200th anniversary of the Norwegian Constitution.
The freedom to roam—to camp amongst the primordial landscapes and to wander amongst the untrammeled nature. The concept Allmensratten, which translates to “every man’s right,” but refers to this freedom. This notion lingers in the Norwegian music festival scene, as well as neopagan influences which reverberate the distant past. Nature, music, and paganism converge throughout the year in Norway, but especially in the summer festival season. South of Oslo, Midgardsblot is an annual festival located near the burial mounds in Borre. The mounds are amongst one of Norway’s greatest national heritage sites which were a place of great power and influence in Europe during the Viking Age.
Midgardsblot features workshops, music, and events that cater to those that seek the ethereal surroundings of Norse pagan rituals and the headbanging pulse of heavy metal. Inferno Metal Festival features the most extreme artists in the metal genre. For those seeking tamer musical waters, Traena Festivalen in northern Norway provides stunning scenery and genre-spanning music that requires an eight-hour boat trip to reach the island where the festival is located.
At the epicenter of this pagan revival is Wardruna. When Wardruna takes the stage at Midgardsblot, the air is electrified. This is what everyone has waited for. The wood, the smoke, and the stone are all connected into a fabric that pulls one back to time immemorial. Lead singer Einar Selvik begins chanting, the drums are triggered and the entire crowd is engulfed into a tribal mythopoeia that reaches deep into the synapses of the limbic and spills forth a collective elation. To witness a singular moment from a band so profound within its niche is a rare moment that has brought attendees from around the world.
Some of the instruments Wardruna uses ram or goat horns, and drums made out of reindeer skin. These instruments date back to the Viking era, but this band is anything but a re-enactment. Einar has stated that Wardruna focuses on reinterpreting the past, but not reliving it. These are songs for our world today and as a reminder that ritual, myth, and lore are tried and true methodologies to return to when life seems discordant and vapid. “Sowing new seeds and strengthening old roots” is a philosophy of Wardruna, and they are here to show us the way.
“Me er eit gamalt tre
Med nysprungne knoppar
Mot sola me strekk oss
Fram for å vekse
We are an ancient tree
With fresh blossoms
Towards the sun we stretch
Forward to grow
– “Odal” by Wardruna, 2016
The mysteries of the Nordic myths can be found in texts dating back to the Viking era, but for the most part, a lot is missing and needs to be interpreted to fill in the gaps. The Norse gods represented elements of nature, of the mind and the polarities of the human experience. In the climate of today’s world, maybe it makes sense to hear the wisdom of the old sagas and the Eddas translated into new works of music and art. In a place like Midgardsblot, the connection is clear. In a place like Norway, the past stares into the eyes of the future.
I know that I hung on a windy tree
Nine Long Nights
Wounded with a spear, dedicated to Odin
Myself to myself
On that tree of which no man knows
From where its roots run
– “Hávamál”, 13th century Norse poem
This article is part of the Discover series, a collaboration between the Music Moves Europe Talent Awards and Are We Europe. This project is cofunded by the Creative Europe programme.