Monday, March 1, 2010

Great Viking god

As I've often pointed out, Y-chromosome tests have revealed that my haplogroup is R1b1b2a1b5, which means that I'm a dyed-in-the-wool European. Unless there was an adoption somewhere up the track, my Skyvington surname surely takes me back to a Norman companion of the Conqueror, whereas my grandmother's Pickering surname takes me back with a high degree of certainty to the Conqueror himself, in person. Although I've always enjoyed reading about the fabulous myths of Egypt and Greece and the profound legends of Judaism and Christianity (and still enjoy this recreation), I've never really "felt"—at a gut level, you might say—that my elders belonged to the tribes who produced such stuff. Never was this feeling stronger than when I used to visit Israel regularly, in the late '80s and early '90s. With respect to all the various peoples and cultures on the edge of the Mediterranean, there's no doubt whatsoever in my mind that I'm a total outsider. I've devoted a lot of energy to studying both Modern Greek and Hebrew, and I would love to imagine that one of my ancestors might have been a Sephardic Jew who studied algebra in the great library of Alexandria, before moving across to teach the Kabbala in Thessaloniki. But I know that such thoughts are fairy tales. Noel Coward used to sing that "mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun". Seeing the way my skin turns crimson on such occasions, it's obvious that none of my ancestors used to hang around the Mediterranean or the deserts of Arabia and Northern Africa. As people in France might say: Billy and the Bedouins are two distinct entities.

Now, I've only navigated for a year or so in a wooden sailing boat (the Zygeuner, out in Fremantle), and I've never got around to plundering villages and raping maidens. Still, I often feel as if I have a Viking soul (if ever these fellows had such things). And a corollary of this feeling is my spontaneous admiration of the exploits of a good old Norse god such as Thor.

So, you'll understand why I was so thrilled to come across an excellent article on this subject written by a bright Scottish lass named Muriel Gray [display]. Insofar as my pagan heart still stirs to the soothing roars of thunder, maybe it's a mistake for me to describe myself as an atheist. I'll have to check whether there's maybe some kind of church in America that worships these archaic gods. I'm sure there must be. On the other hand, when I was working on the typescript of a novel about Master Bruno (founder of the Carthusian monastic order), I once tried to acquire a basic understanding of the legends of the Germanic Nibelungen (in which young Bruno, in medieval Cologne, was no doubt bathed), which strike me as the most confused shit I've ever encountered. So, maybe it would be wiser if I were to remain a pious old-fashioned atheist, devoid of fancy ribbons and bows.

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