KING EDMUND OF ANGLIA
In the year 793 A.D., Vikings landed their longships on the beach at Lindisfarne, England. They ruthlessly attacked the St. Cuthbert monastery. They ransacked that holy place, stole every treasure they could lay their hands on. They spilled the blood of the monks on the altar. Before leaving, the Vikings set fire to everything that would burn. Nothing was salvageable. St. Cuthbert’s was a ruin.
This was the start of what many historians call The Viking Age. A period of 300 years when the Northmen were known to invade villages to rape, steal, kill and destroy. No one was exempt. Nothing was sacred to them. Indeed, the Northmen took a perverse delight in targeting monasteries, in stealing holy treasures and slaughtering monks and nuns.
Almost 100 years more into the Viking Age, in 870, we find Edmund on the throne in Anglia, England. He is about 30 years old, but has already been in power for half of his life. King Edmund was known by his people to be a wise, virtuous, and humble man. He was loved by his people because he was charitable to the poor and widows. Edmund was a devout Christian and he encouraged people to live righteously, in the spirit of charity and peace. Certainly, we have the impression that all is well in Anglia, with King Edmund at the helm.
In 870, three Viking Chieftains (Ingvar, Ubbi and Halfdan) landed in the Northumbria. They slaughtered the people there, plundered the land and left nothing but widespread destruction and fear in their wake… Halfdan remained in Northumbria, while Ingvar sailed to Anglia.
While Ingvar’s army was busy harrying the people and pillaging the land, he sent King Edmund a message. Ingvar knew that Edmund did not have enough military force to resist the Viking invasion, so he commanded the Edmund to hand over his gold and ancestral treasures, to become his slave-king, a mere figure-head ruler. He also commanded the good King to renounce his Christian faith and to outlaw the practice of Christianity in Anglia. If Edmund did these things, he would be allowed live.
King Edmund called for the bishop, who served as his advisor. He explained the situation and asked for the bishop’s advice. The bishop feared for the King’s life, so he said; “Your Highness, your people are already dead and those who are not, have been kidnapped to be sold as slaves. You do not have troops that you may fight. Save your life by fleeing, or save yourself by submitting to their demands.”
King Edmund declared; “I heartily desire that I not be the only survivor after my beloved people are slain with their wives and children! It was never my way to flee. I would rather die for my country if I need to. Almighty God knows that I will not ever turn from worship of Him, nor from love of His truth. If I die, I live.”
So, brave King Edmund went out to confront Ingvar’s army. As predicted, Edmund’s army was wiped out and the good King captured. Edmund was insulted by his captors, beaten and shot through with over a dozen arrows. Yet he lived and he praised the name of Jesus Christ. This infuriated Ingvar, who then ordered Edmund beheaded.
After the violence died down, some of those who survived the raid and were devoted to Edmund went searching through the woods for his remains. The good King’s remains were found and enshrined in a Benedictine monastery – now called Bury St. Edmund’s. “The shrine became a place of pilgrimage for England’s kings, who came to pray at the grave of a man who remained steadfast in the Christian faith and loyal to his people.”
Okay, so now you’ve heard one side of the story. Now, it’s time to hear the other. After all, who were the Vikings and what caused them to go on a 300 year rampage?
The Vikings were not just one nationality. Rather, they were called “Northmen” because they came from places like: Germany, Sweden, Norway, Austria, Greenland, Iceland, etc… Ordinarily, they lived in much the same way that some Native Americans did. That is to say, they lived in tribes. You know some of the tribal names; Franks, Saxons, Bavarians, Swabians, Alemani, Frisians, just to name a few. Some of them farmed for a living whenever possible, and supplemented their crops with meat hard won from hunting or fishing. Obviously, this required that they live very intimately with nature.
Again, like the Native Americans, the Northmen placed very high value on the experience and wisdom of their elders. After all, one did not grow old in the frozen land of the North by being a fool… The Romans may have invented the first Republic, it was the Nordic Elders who invented the first Democracy and a judicial system they called “The Thing”, which was a trial by jury. They also put a stop to vigilanteeism and blood-feuds through this trial by jury and a system of restitution called “weregeld”. They were seriously troubled by violence and so, were very active in seeking peaceful ways and means to resolve their differences… Which hardly fits the description of the bloodthirsty demons we heard about at the beginning.
Although the Vikings did not belong solely to one tribe or even to one nationality, having come from various parts of Europe, Iceland and Greenland… They were all members of the same faith; the pre-Christian, Teutonic religion that is (today) known by the name “Asatru”. Which means, “True to the Gods”. From here on out, I will refer to all of these people as Asatru.
Christians live by the 10 Commandments. The Asatru lived by the 9 Noble Virtues;
Honor or Worthiness
Freedom or Self-Reliance
Steadfastness or Perseverance
Just like the 12 Tribes of Israel, the Teutonic Tribes also have an ancient oral and recorded history of their relationship with God. Only God didn’t speak to them in quite the same way He chose to speak to the Hebrews. He chose to speak to the Asatru though Nature.
Psalm 19 says; “The Heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of His hands.”
Romans 1 tells us; “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – His eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made…”
The Asatru were not stupid people. Just as you do not worship a crucifix or statue of Jesus – but the invisible and risen Christ that they represent, Asatru did not worship Nature itself, they worshipped the Divine Power that was behind Nature.
For example, There is Odin, the God of Inspiration. The first definition of “inspiration” is drawing in of breath”. It has to do with breath and wind. Odin is a sky God. He can cause a gentle breeze or he can ride on the fiercest hurricane… The 2nddefinition of the word “inspire” is “the divine influence by which the sacred writers were instructed”. Like the wind, which you know not where it comes from or where it goes, Odin is portrayed as the God who, pilgrim-like, wanders throughout the world searching out truth and wisdom. Which he then gives to his people to inspire them. He may do so gently, like a spring breeze, in this way poets belonged to him. Or he may inspire fiercely, like the hurricane, in this way the Viking Special Forces (a terrifying division of their military called the Berzerks) belonged to him… What is being worshipped here is not the sky, the wind, creativity, battle-fury or inspiration – but the invisible divine-power behind it all.
Then there is Sunna, the Sun. The Asatru, living in the North, experienced months of darkness and often feared the sun would never rise again. In which case, there would be no crops, all life on earth would die. As you can imagine, Sunna was a most welcome and well-loved Goddess! She drove away shadows, fears and evil spirits. She brought healing to winter-ravaged land, enabling the birth of crops. She also brought healing to the sick – did you think it a coincidence that flu season ends in March, with the return of the spring sun? Finally, Sunna also brought the precious gift of inner-enlightenment… What is being worshipped here is not the Sun, or healing, or regeneration, or enlightenment – but the invisible, Divine Power behind it all. And, the Asatru would be the first to tell you, Odin and Sunna are not really 2 separate deities, but are 2 different aspects or portraits of the one unknowable, Divine Mystery that we call God.
The Asatru believed their ancestors could be called upon to help them, to strengthen and guide them. Just as we believe in the Communion of Saints, that great cloud of witnesses surrounding us.
So the Asatru were; farmers, hunters, fishermen. They created Democratic Government, they had a trial by jury. They loved their children and tried to make the world a safer and better place for them. They taught their children and grandchildren to be good citizens and live honorable lives by practicing the 9 Noble Virtues. They revered Nature and they often showed their gratitude to God through ritual gatherings and offerings. They tossed coins into wishing wells, they decorated the Yule tree every winter solstice and celebrated with a ham, they made toasts over their drinks… They were not so very different from us. In fact, I’ve been talking about the ancestors of most people sitting here, ancestors who still love, watch over and pray for us… So, what happened to these good people to set them off on a 300 year long, bloodthirsty, cruel rampage? Two words; Holy War.
It’s no coincidence that the Raid at Lindisfarne happened about ten years into King Charlemagne’s military campaigns against the Bavarians, Avars, Saxons and other Teutonic peoples… It’s also no coincidence that end of the Viking Age happened around 1100 A.D., when the last Asatru temple was destroyed in Germania.
In a book called; “Europe – A Short History” by Warren Hollister, we read; “Charlemagne’s most prolonged military effort was directed against the pagan Saxons of Northern Germany. With the goal of bringing new souls into the Church, he campaigned for some 32 years, conquering the Saxons repeatedly and baptizing them by force, only to have them rebel when his armies withdrew. In a fit of savage exasperation he ordered the execution of 4,500 unfaithful Saxons in a single day in 782.”… This type of persecution did not end with Charlemagne, either. There were many Christian Kings who were eager to pick up where he had left off – not Edmund, certainly. The war came to him, he was an innocent victim, who faced death with integrity.
Some of the far most Northern kingdoms, like Iceland were “Prime-signed”. What that means is, since their land is perpetually frozen and farming impossible, some Asatru kingdoms relied heavily on imported food just to remain alive. Christian Crusaders would prevent the imports arriving – starving entire Asatru cities – until they agreed to be baptized. As soon as the Asatru rulers signed the agreement to baptize all of their pagan subjects, they were considered “Prime-signed” and food was brought in.
People of the Asatru faith today still observe holidays that commemorate the tortuous deaths of their hero-martyrs, such as “Eyvindr Kinnrifi, a Norwegian Asatru murdered by St. Olaf Tryggvason. When bribery failed to convince him to convert, a metal bowl was set on his abdomen and red-hot coals heaped in it to torture him into accepting baptism. In spite of his agony, Eyvindr refused to turn away from the religion of his ancestors, dying at last when he burst asunder from the heat.” The Asatru remember and have many stories like this one.
This is how the Good News was preached to the people of the Asatru faith. This was how they were introduced to the love of Christ. Is it any wonder they wanted to destroy every monastery, burn them all to the ground? Is it any wonder they wanted to outlaw and put an end to Christianity?
Now you’ve both sides of the story. As far as I’m concerned (outside if the Crucifixion), there is no story more tragic than this story of a Holy War that, in reality, was anything butHoly. A war that turned good and honorable people, Christians and Asatru alike into rabid, bloodthirsty beasts, far from the image of God.
I’m seeing a lot of that these days, everywhere I look. Literally and figuratively.
Here in America, as of November 3rd, we woke up to the news that the number #1 concern if those who voted for President Bush was and is “moral values”… Instantly, the Culture War became a Holy War. Conservative, Fundamentalist Christians and Jews vs. Liberal Christians, Jews, and Secularists. Each side demonizing the other… It’s a war in which we all lose. A war no one will win, as long as we continue to nurse prejudice, bitterness, anger and as long as we continue to demonize one another. United we stand, divided we fall.
November 3rd, the U.S.A. was defined to the rest of the world as a Conservative Christian nation. That was a day that confirmed the worst fears of the Muslims in the Middle East. Now, they too, feel this is a Holy War. That the U.S.A. is, indeed, not just about planting democracy in the Middle East, but Christianity too – even as we seek to wipe out Islam, their culture and way of life… So, we’ve seen a rise in the violence, not only in Iraq – but around the world. Radical, fundamentalist Muslims have claimed responsibility for beheadings even in Amsterdam and Thailand. Saudi Arabian Clerics are joining Iraqi voices in calling for Jihad…
In Chechnya and Azerbajan, Christians and Muslims are fighting, rioting and killing each other in the streets.
Martyrdom appears to be becoming more prevalent. To give you an idea, a book called “Jesus Freaks” tells us; “There are more Christian Martyrs today than there were in 100 A.D. – in the days of the Roman Empire. …There were close to 156,000 Christians Martyred around the world in 1998. An estimated 164,000 will be martyred in 1999.”… Those numbers are pre-September 11th numbers, pre-war in Afghanistan and Iraq numbers. I would imagine the number of Christian martyrs has grown considerably.
My friends, the days are darkening and growing ever more dangerous. Yet, even while I’m troubled in my spirit, I remember the Chinese word for “problem” or “trouble” also translates as “opportunity”… And, did you know? The word “martyr” actually translates as “witness”? What I’m saying to you is, these are times of distress. But while faith, hope and love remain, we have the opportunity to be witnesses of the love of Christ. First to each other, then to the rest of the world. Let me tell you, Folks, it’s hard to reach out the loving hand of Christ when you want to slap the other guy upside the head! But the very moment we demonize and do violence, we lose opportunity and more importantly, we lose the image of Christ. Do you believe in the transforming power of Christ’s love to work through you or not?
In times like these, it’s always good to go back and study the book of Acts, the book of the persecuted Church. To really look at the priorities, the strategies of the Apostles, and adopt them for our very own.
If you read Acts what you find is; The Apostle’s 1st priority, always and everywhere, no matter whom they were talking to – was to represent, to BE the love of Christ. 2nd, the Apostles put the vast majority of their efforts to encouraging, loving and building up the Brethren. Everything else, even Evangelism and physical martyrdom was sacrificed for the Brethren. How do we know that? Because, for the most part, the Apostles either kept on-the-move, or they made themselves scarce, they went into hiding. Do you remember? Right after Paul’s conversion, when he wanted to meet and embrace the Apostles – he couldn’t find them! Barnabas had to be convinced of the reality of Paul’s conversion, before he took Paul to meet Peter and James. Later, we find Paul escaping martyrdom by hiding in a basket and being let down over a city wall so he could disappear into the darkness… Does this mean the Apostles were cowards? No! It means they knew that they could do more for the Brethren alive than dead. They knew that it would be greater to live for Christ, than to die unnecessarily. The Brethren needed them and they were the Apostle’s 1st priority. Then comes evangelism. And that makes sense because evangelism is the act of inviting people not only into relationship with Christ, but also into the love of the Church. But if we are not actively loving and caring for one another – what are we inviting people into? Why should they come and why would they stay? (Especially when Mother Paula’s coffee from Hell gives them every incentive to run away!)… What the world should be saying is; “They must be Christians, see how they love one another!”
If we accomplish the 1st two priorities; loving the Brethren and evangelism, we shouldn’t face martyrdom. At least, not in an ideal world. But as we know, this world is far from ideal. The Apostles and King Edmund too, faced martyrdom with bravery and love for Christ when there were no other alternatives, no other way out but to deny Christ. They loved Christ more than life and preferred to die rather than to deny him… We may or may not face literal martyrdom in this nation. With both angry fundamentalist Christians and fundamentalist Muslims at large, that remains to be seen… But there is no doubt that the Holy War in this country is creating ideological martyrs on both sides. I can say with confidence, that kind of martyrdom has already come to many of us, it is having very tangible effects on our relationships and our lives. Perhaps even causing us to question our Faith and whether God is a Just and Loving God? See to it that bitterness, anger and demonizing do not win the day. Do not let the sun go down on your anger. Do not trade the image of God for that of a rabid, blood-thirsty beast. Do not let go of Christ – hold fast! I can’t promise you that things will get better. I can only encourage you to love the Brethren, to open your eyes to The Communion of Saints and Ancestors, for this is where you will find the justice, find the love and power of Christ. This is where you learn you are never, never alone!