I’ve been asked “so, what was up with that Icelandic Edda bit, anyway?”  Good question, especially in a world where everyone and their second cousin writing about werewolves tosses out some variant of the root word “vargr”, which just means “wolf” in Old Norse.  For the world of Legacy, however, there’s more to it than just pulling out a cool sounding synonym for wolf.  Wolves had a huge place in Norse myth.  For one, Fenrir son of Loki is the monster that will eventually eat Odin all-father at the end of the world (and yes, the same one bound by the one-armed hero Tyr).  In turn, the offspring of Fenrir, Skoll and Hatti, chase the Sun and Moon across the skies.  So we’ve got wolves representing destruction at the same time they’re responsible for driving the heavens.

Well, that’s myth.

But in everyday lives of the Vikings, we find “vargr” as a synonym for outlaw–  which means someone outside the boundaries/protection of law.  Kinslayers, murderers (defined as not killing someone legally– lots of way to do that, though) often found themselves labeled this way.  But they could be found useful in battle or exploration:  take Eric the Red, a murderer who founded Greenland.  Was he labeled “vargr?”  I haven’t found anything that mentions that, so perhaps he wasn’t.  Or perhaps he wasn’t a true vargr.  Perhaps we’ve just been defining the word too narrowly.  What if, instead of just one or two rogue vikings, the Vargr were  a whole group of people who lived outside the law of the Viking world?  And perhaps they were called wolves for a reason.

And those wolves–  excuse me, outlaws– might be useful when it came time for war.  We read contemporary descriptions of the berserks driving themselves into a bestial rage.  Of course, the modern historians say, poetic license has them becoming “as beasts”.  Clearly, that means they fought like animals, not that they literally became them.  And the references to them assuming the skin of bears or wolves (bear-sark literally means bear skin), well, of course they were wearing skins of animals to frighten their superstitious opponents who would naturally confuse a wild warrior in a wolf suit with a real wolfman (verr-wulf meaning just that).

We’re far too sensible these days to take such things literally.  Unlike the men who were actually there.

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