The Viking Spirit by Daniel McCoy: A Mini-Review

Note: This was originally posted in a reblog of an anonymous ask to @skaldish on Tumblr. The anon had recently purchased this book and asked for help in making sure it wasn’t based on white supremacist misinterpretations.

This was actually one of my first books on Heathenry! Like Zan mentioned, it’s an okay resource and at least isn’t overtly racist, but now that I’m a more experienced Heathen I do not recommend this book to newcomers for a few reasons:

  • McCoy is not pagan and is not writing for a pagan audience. His bio on his website makes this explicitly clear: “A common misconception is that I self-identify as a heathen or a pagan of some sort, something which I have never done.” This isn’t necessarily a bad thing — in fact, I would argue that pagans need to compare notes with secular authorities — but it’s important to keep in mind that McCoy is a lay historian writing about (as far as he’s concerned) a dead religion and is not concerned with reconstructing a viable modern practice.
  • Another thing that I would not necessarily consider a red flag but more like a “yellow flag”: McCoy does not have a formal education in the things he writes about. Also from his website bio: “Though I have a BA degree, I’m almost entirely self-taught in everything that I do, including my work here.” Amateur historians are an important part of these discussions! (I am one!) But all amateur historians (myself included!) are only as credible as our sources, and I have issues with the ones McCoy chooses to base his work on.
  • Getting into more serious criticisms: as the title of his book implies, McCoy conflates the concept of “vikings” with Norse identity in his work, and this is very reflective of how he views Norse culture. He’s very focused on the hyper-masculine, heteronormative warrior aspects of Norse culture, and he (intentionally or not) misinterprets historical records to support this view. For example, he translates drengr (a term which implies courage, honor, and “badassery”) as “real man.” This ignores cases, such as in Njal’s Saga, when women are called drengr and imposes modern gender roles on Norse society. (See Jackson Crawford’s short video about drengr.)
  • And of course, McCoy’s interpretation of ergi is equally problematic. He defines ergi as “unmanliness” and equates this with homosexuality. He argues that homosexuality was associated with cowardice, and that it was “a crime as heinous as rape and murder…” (!!??!!!???!) He assumes that these were pre-Christian values, even though there’s some debate over whether social taboos against queer sex predate Christianity in Scandinavia. Several of the most beloved gods (like Odin, for example) are deeply queer, and would have been seen as such by their original worshipers. (See this post from the Public Medievalist for more context here.)
  • Seiðr, a form of Norse magic, was also explicitly queer. As Cat Heath writes in their book Elves, Witches, & Gods: “Regardless of who was doing seiðr, there was always the implication of sexual deviance and promiscuity. These sexual overtones are never elaborated on in the sources beyond allusions to the goddess Freyja’s promiscuity and apparent incest with her brother, Freyr. But the association between magic and sexual deviance were preserved in Norwegian legal history well into the sixteenth century.” McCoy ignores all of this in favor of a view of the Norse as a hyper-masculine, highly homophobic, highly martial culture.
  • McCoy claims innangard and utangard, which he translates as “inside the enclosure” and “outside the enclosure,” were core parts of the Norse worldview, quite literally translating to an in-group and an out-group. These are derived from obscure legal terms that literally referred to indoors and outdoors, and there’s literally no evidence they were ever used to describe social categories. (See Jackson Crawford’s video explaining this.) This idea of an in-group and an out-group is foreign to the Old Norse worldview and is actually directly opposed to Old Norse values of hospitality, and it stinks of fascist influences.
  • McCoy demonizes Loki, describing him as “a scheming coward who cared only for shallow pleasures and self-preservation,” and even claiming that “there are no traces whatsoever in the historic record of Loki ever having been worshipped.” This is… just not true. Loki is not only a beloved figure among modern Heathens, but he was very much worshiped by at least some of the Old Norse. (See Zan’s intro to Lokean practice.)

Again, I don’t think McCoy is an avowed white supremacist, and I don’t think he’s intentionally putting fascist content into his work, but the content is there. I’m not saying you should never read his book, but I really do not recommend making it the foundation of your practice or reading it as an introduction to Norse spirituality.

Like I said, this was one of my introductory books, and as a result I had to do a lot of unlearning and deconstructing later in my practice. I think this book actively hurt my ability to connect with the gods in a healthy way.

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