In Loving Memory of Roger Wikell

Photo by Kristina Laitinen / Nynäshamnsposten

Photo by Kristina Laitinen / Nynäshamnsposten

I awoke this morning to the surreal and sad news of the Swedish archaeologist Roger Wikell’s passing.

This is a particularly difficult text to write, not only for the sake of the severity of the subject, but for the inadequacy of brief and sober words to celebrate the memory of such a passionate, fun, and enthusiastic man. But before I go on to even attempt that, I wish to extend my deepest condolences to his family.

In an academic world rocked by hopes and fears of institutional employment, Roger was something of a masterless samurai. He carved out a living as a contract archaeologist, and maintained an impressive productivity regardless of financial backing, as his colleague Martin Rundkvist points out in his moving celebration of Roger’s life and career.

Roger’s engagement and activities far surpassed the expectations of his academic profession. He wasn’t just a pillar of the Scandinavian archaeological community: He loved interacting with all aspects of Scandinavian heritage, and brought together a wide array of people. Whether they were living historians, traditional craftsmen, university professors, independent scholars, or simply “happy amateurs”, Roger’s active efforts contributed to the development of one big, extended community in friendly celebration of the past. There wasn’t a snobby or pretentious bone in his body.

I am proud to have been able to call Roger my friend, and my own work certainly benefited from his continuing support and help. Roger died of a heart attack in the woods. There may be some solace in the fact that he loved the outdoors. This was obvious not only because it was a necessity of his career, but how he seemed to always be out and about. He seemed to always be stumbling across some undiscovered petroglyph, or rediscovering lost runestones, whether at work or in his free time. This was a man who could never take a break.

More often than not, I got my archaeological news from Roger. He was in tune with whatever was going on, and always had some new find to report. Many will recall his wit and comedic timing too. I will particularly cherish the memory of our clowning around at the Non-Christian religion in archaeology, place-names, and landscapes conference (phew!) in Ulvik, Norway, in 2012. I was running around after dinner, interrogating various pillars of the scholarly community on which animals they would consider themselves equal to in single, bare-knuckle combat. While most went for beasts they could easily defeat in a most cowardly fashion, Roger’s unflinching reply was as original as it was true to his personality: “Jag borde kunna ta en älg” - I reckon I could take out a moose, he insisted. The king of the forest, no less. Even in my morbid games, Roger aimed a little higher.

I don’t know if Roger hoped for an afterlife, but if the afterlife our ancestors envisioned has any truth to it, I expect Roger is in for a warm welcome and a good seat in the rooms that lie beyond the deep waters, at the end of that journey we will all embark on. Often so much sooner than we think.

Here’s to Roger Wikell, a true friend of the past.


Quivering Before The Sun // Notes on Marriage and Initiation


When I open my eyes tomorrow, I will wake up the same as the man I was yesterday, though only subtly different from the man I was the day before then, and the day before that, in a measured sequence of days, turning into weeks, into months, and years. It is in that measure space of time, I may have noticed some difference. From being a younger and more immature version of myself, less interested in permanent pursuits and more in glimpses of excitement here and there. I will not deny the worth of either. I have a strong idea, maybe a delusion, that I have always been who I am, whether I realized it or not, which is probably true and false, whether I am honestly aware of who I really am in terms of my talents and limitations, or whether it is all some hubris mixed with occasional crippling lack of confidence. It feels redundant to express, and maybe that’s all-rite.

But I will wake up tomorrow as a married man, not freshly, but one year in. An insignificant date in the grand piacture, but that doesn’t matter. It is not meant to be compared. It is a victory to anyone living in the world today to commit to such a thing. Marriage itself is an initiation, and something that grounds the one to another, and ties them to something greater than themselves simply in the power of its gesture.

Obviously, or so I like to believe, me and my wife could have gone a full lifetime without tying the knot. It is by no means necessary to prove our devotion to one another by marriage in and by itself, but it remains a powerful gesture, whether spiritually or legally, and I do believe it is also a gesture of maturity. Marriage is not just a one-time event, but cyclical feast, as the marriage itself will no doubt go through many cycles, good and bad seasons. Marriage is by definition initiatory. The bachelor and the virgin (hopefully) dies, the couple is reborn. Again tomorrow, and hopefully for may years to come, every May morn until the life leaves us.

We quiver towards the dawn
New lights in this moment
Change the colors on the sky
Enjoy the difference in the depths,
And there are no more eyes
Staring towards us
Or below us
We just want to see, just see, just see
What must happen.
We will let the sun meet the gazes
Shaking accordingly
Feel bodies filled by the prickling.
It is all we can ask
We are here to learn and see
New demands turn to steps
We are here to observe
A process is put into motion
We are here to breathe and laugh
All powers are present
We are here to love
All shadows turn to light!

Vi er bevende mot soloppgang
Nye lys i denne stund
Forandrer fargene på himmelen
Nyte skiftet i avgrunn
Og det finns ingen flere øyne
Stirrende mot oss
Eller under oss
Vi vil bare se, bare se, bare se
Hva som må skje
Vi vil la solen møte blikkene
Dirre lett alt ettersom
Kjenne kropper fylt av stikkene
Det er alt vi kan be om
Vi er her for å lære og se
Nye fordrer blir til steg
Vi er her for å observere
En prosess settes i veg
Vi er her for å puste og le
Alle krefter er i hus
Vi er her for å elske
Alle skygger blir til lys!

On the Emancipation of the Android


Every single person living in contemporary Western civilization have the sardonic privilege of belonging to one of the most sheltered populations in all of human history, to the point where most of us haven’t even witnessed the killing of an animal for the purpose of something as quotidian as nourishment, though most of participate in this process of industrialized violence on a daily basis as consumers. We take it for granted that violence on the human interpersonal level is stigmatized and frowned upon as an inexcusable and unintelligent reaction, which conspires against our social nobility. This wasn’t the case in the past. When we are confronted with the high tolerance of violence and inequality in past societies, we react with disbelief. Surely, such a culture would spiral into total chaos.

Temporarily it might have, from time to time. But in the bigger picture it did not. Even legally, violence was often casual. A matter of expectation. Most of us experience violence only in spontaneous or relatively rare incidents, and for the most part we are happy it doesn’t happen more often, though we care less when violence is institutionalized, outsourced, or exported. Finally, it is in the latter example that our ancestors might find some common ground with us, as violence towards outgroups provided opportunities that even ultramilitarized tribal societies were unable to amongst between themselves.

If one conflates the concept of “nobility” with nonviolence, past peoples were certainly not the noble savages we like to imagine they were. Not my ancestors, yours, nor the ancestors of other folks. Historical populations and ethnic groups subjected to atrocities by industrialized nations in recent memory, are themselves nerfed down for the sake of convenience, forgetting that they — like many, probably most historical, vigilant, self-advocating populations, had a relationship to violence few decent people today would be willing to accept.

But that measure of decency is relative. It seems that people are hard-wired for in-group preference, and suspicion, even prejudice towards outsiders. It is the norm rather than the exception for pre-state societies, historical or contemporary, to subject their neighbors and competitors to behaviors that either border on or cross into the realm of the recent concept of crimes against humanity. As I peer out the window from my desk, down on New York’s gum and dog piss stained streets, I am amazed that we are able to get along at all. But if it weren’t for that one ideology all Americans are taught since childhood, I don’t think it would last even another week. Certainly not in this city, where human tragedies such as traffic accidents by necessity — certainly for the sake of effieciency — are converted into mild personal annoyances by the metabolism of the big city. The first time you see someone laying face down in the New York gutter, you stop to care for them. The sixth time, you groan.

We established that people struggle greatly to see the other as themselves even when they are similar.
But what happens when these perennial self-grapplings of human nature are brought to deal with ever increasing groups of non-human bodies and intelligences? It turns out that people have a high tolerance for (or possibly even an impulse towards) violence against machines, yes, and robots particularly, who, with their real or imagined similarity to humans, autonomy etc. appear to trigger uncomfortable features in human psychology that allowed us to survive and thrive as tribes in the past. Coldly justified historically, these attributes are objects of awkward self-scrutiny today.

I am no technologist. In terms of my grasp of artificial intelligence I am nothing but a man among men. But I wonder I wonder if autonomous artificial lifeforms would ever be accepted into human society (or if they ought to), and if this will become a political hot topic as artificial intelligence exponentially develops. I don’t know what their physical likeness will be when they break the waves. Be they individual or legion. If they will develop a common ethnogenesis, a mythology, or identities of their own. Would they demand rights, self-segregate, form states, and break off into tribal conglomerates?

Would they fight amongst each other, or would their demands for equality defame the sanctity of human life, and make life itself a cheap commodity? I imagine to expect the riots of luddite warbands. I wonder if the bog bodies of the future will be cybernetic, and which artocities, if any, archaeologists will uncover from the future tribal wars and possibly endemic warfare between organic and synthetic organisms, and what traces of human ancestry entities of the distant future will find. And I wonder if they will ever ask questions what we thought and what we believed.

Along Ancient Future Beaches


In the last ice age, the landmass of what is today Scandinavia was pressed into the earth’s crust under sheets of deep and unfathomably heavy ice. As soon as that ice began to recede, the land was rejected by the depths. It’s been ten thousand years since that ice age ended, but the Nordic is still rising at a rate of a few millimeters every year. This so-called post-glacial rebound has immense and long-term consequences for archaeology, and how time is perceived in relation to the landscape.

When I still worked at a museum, I used to illustrate this phenomenon to foreign tourists with a stock joke, about finding poetic justice in that the underdog nation of Norway slowly rises out of the depths, while the Danes, our old time oppressors — hyperbolically speaking — are being slowly flushed away by our North Sea, our venerable mother. Schadenfreude is a beautiful part of inter-Scandinavian jargon.

But this is changing. Denmark may well have one last chuckle before they go the way of Doggerland. You see, the rate at which the sea levels are rising is gradually accelerating. In Norway, it is expected to out-compete post-glacial rebound rather soon. While it is true that, compared to Denmark and, yikes, the aptly named Low Countries, most of Norway sits defiantly perched at a safe height above the sea, we’ve still spent the better part of the past thousand years making ourselves comfortable, and hence vulnerable, along the coastline. We emerged from a seafaring culture, so it follows that our most significant urban centers are neatly placed along the sea.

In Norway, the UNESCO heritage site of Bryggen in Bergen is widely considered the quintessential example of a future climate casualty, a Scandinavian venice, essentially. Ironically, the sea levels threatening to swallow the site will sooner or later match the sea level when king Oláfr Kyrri first established it as the future trading hub of the kingdom, soon an empire, then a province, then a nation. Past and present landscapes converge.

So far, archaeologists working with the origins of maritime livelihoods and early coastal settlement have had to look for it up in the slopes and hillsides, as much as 40 meters above the current sea level. In one apparent worst-case scenario, the sea level will rise by five meters by the year 2200. People will find themselves in the peculiar situation of returning to the coastline of the early Viking Era. Conversely, the relics left after us — their own close ancestors — will in many cases be underwater. It will be an interesting time for marine archaeologists, and once again people will swim on the beaches of the Iron Age.

tidarbrot.tif // On the Brink of a Novel Perception of Time?

By Ain! From the future, Omid’s friend received the image file tidarbrot.tif! “What in the blazes could this be?”, she wondered, “Tíðarbrot ought to mean something to the effect of fragment of time?” It turned out to be a digital scan of a runic inscription, executed in the runic script of the Middle Ages, with alternating east- and westward drooping and interwoven staves.


Omid's friend immediately turned to a vacant terminal, which she put to the task of transcribing and latinizing the inscription, a pursuit that yielded the following result:

tidarbrot deciphered.png

“Clearly this is skaldic verse in the complex drottkvætt meter. I wonder if its obscure meaning will allow itself to be deciphered in the present?” She handed the terminal the following three commands:
Convert to prose word-order
Translate with kennings marked and deciphered.

These were the results:

Ǽ kallask ellilyfs
ǫnd eða tíðar rǫnd
mun miðmundi landa
miskunnar fisks ok stríðs.
Þessi stund þandi ár
þá er skáld sá aldir
allar senn. Dǿmi ǫll
eru svaðað þaðan.

Prose word-order:

Miðmundi miskunnar ok stríðs fisks landa mun ǽ kallask ǫnd ellilyfs eða rǫnd tíðar. Þessi stund þandi ár þá er skáld sá aldir allar senn. Dǿmi ǫll eru þaðan svaðað.


The point of equal distance between [[the land fish's] mercy and struggle] may be called the [breath of the old-age-remedy] or [time's rim]. This moment outstretched years when the poet saw all ages at once. All examples from thence have slid.
  • [[The land fish’s (=serpent)] mercy (=summer) and struggle (=winter)]

  • [The serpent’s mercy and struggle (=summer and winter)]

    Unresolved. Manual examination required:

  • [breath of the old-age-remedy (=?The point of equal distance between [[the land fish’s] mercy (=summer) and struggle (=winter)]

  • [time’s rim (=?The point of equal distance between [[the land fish’s] mercy (=summer) and struggle (=winter)]

”What an oddity! The stanza seems to take a poke at time itself!”, said Omid's friend, “‘But before we take a closer look, one should probably say a few words about the kennings.” The interpretation of the first kennings appears fairly certain. We find an ordinary serpent kenning in landa fiskr “the fish of the land” (Cf. Meissner 1921: 112). It is said that there is no need to mourn at the serpent or the eel's funeral, as these creatures glide most effortlessly between the worlds — could there be a relation? Meissner explains why the summer is called the serpent's mercy, and the winter its struggle in Die Kenningar der Skalden:

Winter und Sommer werden bei den Skalden fast immer durch die Schlange bezeichnet. Die Winter ist die Krankheit, das Leid, der Schrecken, der Vernichter der Schlangen [...] Der Sommer erbarmt sich wieder der Schlangen [...]

The skaldic poets consistently refer to 'winter' and 'summer' by the (base-word) 'snake'. Winter is the illness, the suffering, the horror, the destroyer of snakes. The summer again is merciful to the snake. (ibid: 109, my translation)

Omid's friend began to interpret: The first helming (i.e. Half stanza) may be characterized as a description of a sort of non-perspective of time in mythological terms. The helming's word-order is shuffled in accordance with the typical heavy drottkvætt style, as well as one (or two, depending on how we count it) multi-layered kenning. If, for the sake of simplicity, we ignore the kennings, it says that “The point of equal distance between summer and winter may be called the breath of the old-age-remedy or time's rim”. What is the middle point between summer and winter? Is the poet trying, with this peculiar expression, to point towards a time outside of time? That this point can be called rǫnd tíðar – “time’s rim” seems like a reasonable claim, provided we accept the foundation of such a “moment” in the first place, but what does it mean that we can also call it ǫnd ellilyfs – “the breath of the old-age-remedy”? I'll have to leave that unanswered for the time being.

The second helming has a prose-like syntax and no kennings. Apart from a rather artificial application of the verb tenja, the contents are fairly straight-forward considering the circumstances. The first sentence, Þessi stund þandi ár þá er skáld sá aldir allar senn, “This moment outstretched years when the poet saw all ages at once”, begs the question “which moment?” Here, it is reasonable to imagine ourselves looking at the non-time that the poet provided a general description of in the first helming, from a more personal point of view, perhaps from a certain moment in the poet's life where he observed it. The last sentence, Dǿmi ǫll eru svaðað þaðan, “All examples from thence have slid.” Sliding, slithering like the old serpents perhaps? Once again the poet adopts a general perspective. It is tempting to read this through the eyes of Plato: All realizations of phenomena (dǿmi “examples”) pour into time from a place outside of it (þaðan “thence, from that place” in the context of the stanza), but this is probably a forced interpretation. As long as the future remains uncertain, so will tíðarbrot's underlying concepts continue to baffle us.

Contents licensed under Creative Commons.
Conceived and executed by F. Th. Øverland
Developed and translated by E. Storesund



A rune, red is she.
Red, in white skin carved.
A blood-staunching stave
whose angles pop boils.

A rune, red, that
lights an inner flame
I see shining back
to the dawn of days.

When my gaze meets it,
this red rune, I see
as through Ishtar's gate
all of inner Babylon's
letters carved as odes and psalms.

Each stave is a letter,
each branch a verse,
carving their way
way through the sagas
back to the depths:
The womb of life itself,
to lost Fimbultýr's
morning red wyrd-rune.
Back when the world
was dawning,
yet not meadow-thatched,
but swept in scarlet.

A note on Óðr


Son: Father, what is this “óðr” our narrator speaks of, and what use to me is this term from a language ancient and long-since dead?

Father: Son, I am glad you asked, though the question is not easy to comprehend. Many things are óðr, seemingly opposing yet intertwined. What is insanity to genius, and beauty to ugliness? Art and nature is like meditation and impulse. Poetic composition’s contrast to the the violent fits of a madman or a storm, but I consider them all in relation to óðr. How can I pick one translation? In the olden days, óðr meant madness, rage, wit, mind and spirit. It meant poetry and art, ecstasy, and dizziness, and godly advice.

Yesterday I enjoyed a strong desire and ability to create. I pursue and envy those brief moments. Today I curse every word refusing to be written, desiring the peculiar sight that triggers without warning an explosion of fanciful ideas. It is the calm philosopher and the furious volcano of expression, threatening to ejaculate at any given moment. It is Adam’s curse, the friction of pen against the writer’s block. It is the flow of words from a bum’s mouth, and kingly speech.

Sticks and stones may break your bones, but words will break down a king and rebuild him as a fool. Are you beginning to grasp what I am trying to say? A toast from the oxen’s sword to those who do! Though man and beast are different, they are alike. Aren’t they complementary? Consider the wolf loose in your mind’s temple. The ancients were not as dense as you may believe. They saw this clearly, but you see it darkly. When the gods created man, as allegedly they did, óðr was bestowed by the idiot god Hønir. Put that in your pipe and smoke it. I love the fist that kisses my lips. Without The Other I for sure am not. This is the key to our philosophy.


”Here we are at the heart of the matter […] in regards to the traditional skaldic kenning style. Two oppositional systems of form are tried to be unified, two antagonistic wills of form are brought to compatible cooperation.”
- Hallvard Lie, ‘Natur’ og ‘Unatur’ i Skaldekunsten

"No two ideas have any real meaning until they are harmonized in a third, and the operation is only perfect when these ideas are contradictory."
- Aleister Crowley, Book 4

”We are friends between whom there is a barbed-wire fence. We smile at one another but we can't kiss.“
- Yukio Mishima