Victor Rydberg 1876

The trouble with Viktor Rydberg

A lot of material has been regurgitated promoting the merits of Viktor Rydberg as a genius or new found expert on the Northern myths, in particular his nationalist Aryan stance seems to have attracted the uneducated racist elements lurking as heathens in Asatru USA who cloak themselves as folkish or whatever excuse one uses today to conceal race bigotry.

To His Majesty King OscarII., The Ruler Of The Aryan People Of The Scandinavian Peninsula, The Promoter Of The Sciences, The Crowned Poet, This Work Is Most Respectfully Dedicated By The Author, And Translator, Viktor Rydberg.

The works of Victor Rydberg are, in terms of their value to academia, virtually useless. What you are encountering is the faction within American Asatru that sources its ideas to the 'Viking revival' from two to three centuries ago. Romantic nationalism in Europe from the 1500s until, arguably, almost the present day is something of a product of the process of the integration and consolidation of mediaeval city-states, fiefs, and assorted other examples of the patchwork of political entities of Europe that developed after the fall of the Roman Empire in the 400s. Some notable times during that process were:
1.) the empire-building of Charles Magnus the Frank,
2.) the Kalmar Union in Scandinavia,
3.) the evolution of the Holy Roman Empire of the Germanic peoples into what we would recognise as a modern nation-state,
4.) the Papal States integrating with Napoli and other lands to form modern Italy, and so on. The list of examples is very long and goes on and on.

Modern nation-states in Europe, as we understand them, are served well by uniting disparate parts of their internal population by way of sharing a common culture, language, and values, amongst other factors. Many attempts failed (most of the so-called 'Celtic' lands, Sicily, Burgundy, the Kalmar Union, Austria-Hungary, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, and on and on), and a few succeeded; thus, we now have the USA, the UK, France, Germany, et cetera. This process is hardly linear or inevitable- what used to be Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia are excellent examples of very recent failures. So, in sum, the nation-states that succeeded were able to persuade geopolitical entities and their respective peoples to unify under one flag, one (or a few) languages, one general culture (or a few distinct ones, like in Switzerland today), and a sense of 'belonging' to the nation-state as 'one people', sovereign, dedicated to self-determination, blah blah blah. Propaganda is a finely tuned art for humans, and propaganda is what serves the process of building nation-states.

Europe, mostly beginning in the 1600s, witnessed an increasing appreciation for nation-states. The attributed causes are a matter of debate, but what is important here is that it continues to the present day, all around the world. During V. Rydberg's lifetime and the two centuries prior, groups like the Götiska Förbundet in Sweden were formed of artists, scientists, and enthusiastic amateurs that encouraged by their work the propaganda and public education that supported the building of nation-states. This increased the feelings of solidarity in what were slowly becoming more homogeneous 'national' populations, and worked (knowingly or in ignorance) in tandem with the desires of political entities (the Swedish Diet, British monarchy, et cetera) toward a concurrent increase in political power for those entities.

V. Rydberg was one of many people during his time who were caught up in this process. Romantic nationalism coloured (I say 'decidedly skewed') scientific publications, particularly in what we call the humanities. Rydberg was and is known as a novelist and a poet. His novels entitled " Singoalla" and "Fribytaren på Östersjön" are fairly decent adventure/romance texts. His poetry, a significant example of which is 'Tomten' is certainly famous in Sweden, much like Wadsworth, S. Coleridge, and E.A. Poe are part of our own American education in English literature. What V. Rydberg tried to do was venture very far outside of his own professional specialities into the realm of pagan mythography. He had no formal training in the subject. At all. None. In fact, his time as a university student only spanned around a year or so. These things are not damning in themselves since some autodidacts have managed to have quite excellent careers in their chosen fields of research. What curses Rydberg's works in Germanic mythography are the following:

1) an overwhelmingly unscientific bias in forming his conclusions about the nature of Germanic mythography before he was well engaged in his research

2) subsequently picking and choosing bits and pieces from primary sources that would fit his conclusions made before the research was conducted (aka string theory)

3) published his 'research' with hardly any useful citations, thus rendering the work almost useless in the context of science

4) maintaining (without evidence) a hypothesis that the native ancient Germanic myths were all pieces of a grand unified mythological epic that would form a cohesive whole and would explain all that we need to know about the main aspects of natively developed pre-Christian religious beliefs, values, ideals, and so on

These ventures into Germanic mythography were met almost entirely with silence from the scientific community because of the four reasons outlined above. It goes without saying, too, that Rydberg's actual profession (writing fictional literature) worked against him. Today, it would be like Stephen King or J. K. Rowling suddenly publishing an extensive text on the 'effects of sedimentation on the ecology of bacteria in the southwestern Mississippi delta region' or some such thing and expect to be recognised as full-fledged marine biologists.

It would be absurd- neither has studied marine biology or published anything leading up to specialised research that would be acceptable to an academic publisher of journals or textbooks. The same applies to Rydberg. He was not some gent with revolutionary ideas that was ignored because he "defied the scientific status quo". He was an amateur researcher with almost no background in Germanic mythography and despite that fact he tried to publish scientific works in the subject without the necessary education, formal or otherwise. He was a 'hack', as they say these days.

At the same time, his main themese expressed in his works in the realm of Germanic mythography appeal strongly to modern American Asatru people because he gives them something they crave- the idea that
1.) Germanic myths are more or less complete as we have them, and
2.) they can refer to Rydberg's works as a sort of modern-day reference guide in treating our heathen source materials as a sort of equivalent to the Christian Bible- divinely inspired, set in stone, and otherwise not subject to scientific results that contradicts Rydberg's conclusions. They cherish Rydberg's work in treating his conclusions as a matter of faith rather than viewing them with reason, analysis, and thoughtful introspection.

Obviously, the Eddas, various forms of sagas, and skaldic poetry still extant today do not form the basis of a 'Heathen Bible'. They were never written with that intent, and the sources we have are certainly fragmentary- extensive in quantity, but definitely not providing a complete picture of elder native heathenry.  The works of Victor Rydberg are, in terms of their value to academia, virtually useless. What you are encountering is the faction within American Asatru that sources its ideas to the 'Viking revival' from two to three centuries ago. But sadly way too many of the lesser read actually buy into the notion of a non-existent Epic Teutonic Mythology but especially from the separatist camps who promote above all the value of the colour of their white skin pigmentation as the superior gene pool whilst disregarding totally all and any academic or scientifically proven rationale to the contrary. As for race superiority over the black man, methinks "Jesse" Owens at the 1936 Berlin Olympics settled the matter for Nazi Aryan Supremacy. What set Rydberg apart from the actual scholars of his time was not so much his methodology as his entire project. He read popular accounts of the emerging theory of Indo-European languages, leaped to the conclusion that the original Indo-European language must have been spoken by a noble race of tall, blonde, blue-eyed "Aryans" whose European homeland was in Sweden, and set out to cobble together an imaginary ur-mythology for this imaginary people. The entire project was a dull fantasy, having no relationship to scholarship whatsoever.