History is something most people read in books or watch on TV. But there is another way to experience history. Viking Re-enactment, or in a more general sense “living history,” is a unique pastime that gives us the opportunity to recreate parts of history. It could be using copies of ancient tools to craft goods or to create art, or the thrill of standing shoulder-to-shoulder with your team in a mock battle.
I had to be dragged along to a weekly training session for ‘the Viking group.’ I had no idea what I was in for. To be honest, it sounded pretty lame: people dressing up as Vikings and pretending to hit each other with blunt swords. That was 20 years ago.
At first, I enjoyed the fighting. It’s a system of combat that is designed to entertain a crowd. A mixture of historical European martial arts principles, with performing arts. The first time I had a crowd cheering me on by name is indelibly marked on my brain. Sadly, I was cut down soon after. It was awesome. It’s a lot of fun, and training scales remarkably well for different levels of fitness and body type. Axes, spears, swords and huge two-handed ‘Dane axes’ are used as you progress as a warrior.
But fighting is only a small part of the experience. I didn’t know anything about the Vikings when I joined – except that they wore horned helmets and sailed in longships. Turns out, one of those things was wrong! At my first Viking re-enactment event I dressed up as an Anglo-Saxon peasant – the shame – but playing a plucky underdog definitely appealed. Other members helped me learn all about the different crafts and displays, filling in my knowledge as I went on.
The aim of the group is to put on public displays to educate and entertain. In doing it, I was also being educated and entertained, and I didn’t even know it. As well as history, I learned how to make things, how to chop wood and cook over an open fire. Being part of a group, working together for a shared goal and sharing stories around the campfire gave me valuable life experience.
The Vikings became my extended family over the years. In fact, many would bring their children who’d have the run of beautiful historic venues: castles and woods and country parks. A giant playground. Sometimes the kids would know more about the Vikings than me, and they are always better at archery! Years later, I’m bringing my own son to events with his ‘aunts and uncles’ and friends. I’m going to enjoy watching him grow up and earn those life skills and have those experiences.
The years have passed, I’m a bit slower, a bit (a lot) fatter and as interested in researching Viking-age life and crafts as I am hitting people with swords, but my enthusiasm hasn’t diminished. I’ve since started a family with someone I met through the group and I have a massive extended family of awesome people. I haven’t ever regretted it.
I can’t imagine what my life would have been like If I hadn’t joined a Viking re-enactment society. It’s a fantastic activity, and a great place to meet people. You don’t need to know anything (I didn’t) or be TV-Vikings fit (I wasn’t) to get started. Why not try it out?
~ Alan ‘Kael’ Ball, Deputy Leader, Vikings of Middle England. To find out more, visit vikingsof.me or contact firstname.lastname@example.org