All eyes are on Iceland right now. The Icelandic men’s national football team recently made world news when they entered the FIFA World Cup for the first time ever. Even though they didn’t get very far, a huge audience was enchanted by their determined, joyful play… and, of course, the Viking clap. The bearded team captain, Aron Gunnarsson, fiercely shouting “HÚH!” is a reminder of Iceland’s Viking heritage. It’s the perfect time, then, for the real Vikings of Reykjavík to hold their annual festival.
Army of one
Ten years ago, Gunnar Víking Ólafsson decided it was time to champion Iceland’s Viking heritage, and thus, the Einherjar organisation was founded. Einherjar translates to “army of one,” and in Norse mythology, such warriors were the ones that died in battle and were chosen to go to Valhalla. Truly epic.
“The purpose is to remind people of our past, and to be proud of where our people come from,” says Gunnar, who is the foreman of the organisation.
After the group spent the last two years travelling, Einherjar are back in Iceland, and they want everyone to know it. They’ll hold their sixth Viking Festival on Austurvöllur on July 14th as a celebration of their 10th anniversary. There will be a fighting show, and authentic Viking products for sale. “It’s a smaller version of the festival,” says Gunnar, “but enough for people to come and visit us, talk to us, and see what we are about.”
Warriors and wood carvers
Authenticity plays a big part in Einherjar’s vision. “The vikings were not only fighting with their swords and shields,” says Gunnar. “They were also wood carvers. It’s important for us to show those artworks, too.”
Twenty wooden dragon heads will be used for the tents that will be erected at the festival, carved by Gunnar’s own hands. He used oak, which was treasured by Vikings for its durability. “Oak carvings can last 1000 years,” he explains. “They can still be seen in the museums. That’s how we want the festival and us to be known. We want these artworks to last longer than us.”
The reason we are here today
Gunnar has been fascinated with his Viking heritage ever since he was a kid. After doing a lot of research, reading many books and visiting Viking festivals around the world, he has gained an abundance of knowledge on the topic. When he was 50, his mother revealed to him that instead of “Gunnar,” he was originally going to be named “Víking Þór.” Perhaps his path was destiny.
For Gunnar Víking, finding “the Viking spirit” is about forging a spiritual connection to his ancestors. “Maybe in the year 1600 my grandparents were living in this area in Iceland,” he says. “So I go there, sit on a rock, and I imagine going back to those times, and take in who they really were. They’re the reason I am here, hundreds of years later.”
Gunnar emphasises that Einherjar is a club open for everybody, no matter the origin or gender. “It’s not about blood,” he finishes. “It’s about the spirit.”
Info: The Viking Festival will be held on July 14th from noon-5pm at Austurvöllur, with fighting shows, authentic merchandise and real life Vikings