According to a report in the journal Climate Change, a volcanic eruption and an ancient pagan poem convinced the Vikings to embrace Christianity.
The mass conversion of the Vikings to Christ took place around 1100 AD and according to the researchers from the University of Cambridge two events in the 10th century played a role in this decision.
Using ice cores, they said Iceland’s Eldgjjá volcano erupted between 939 AD and 940 AD. At this point the Vikings were creating settlements on the island.
It involved a prolonged lava eruption that spread over a year. It also resulted in a tremendous amount of ash pouring into the atmosphere blocking the sun causing very cool summers and extremely cold winters.
The ash not only affected the climate of Iceland, but reached into North America and Northern Europe, the traditional home of the Vikings. This resulted in droughts, animal stock dying off and increased mortality.
The second thing that attributed to the conversion was an apocalyptic Viking poem called Völuspá written around the same time. In English, the title means, Prophecy of the Volva (Seeress).
The researchers believe it was written shortly after the volcanic eruption by a pagan viking. Many consider it one of the most important Viking epic poems ever written talking about Norse mythology.
It involves the seeress asking Odin, a Norse god, to recite the ancient stories of the world’s creation including earth’s formation, the creation of the first man and woman and as well Yggdrasill the world tree. It also talks about the ancient giants that used to live on the world.
Though clearly references to Norse mythology, some of these stories are similar to the Biblical creation account that also spoke of a significant tree, giants and Adam and Eve.
This should not surprise us because though the world split apart into different languages at the Tower of Babel, all ancient history before that time including the flood and creation would still be common to all cultures. These continued to be passed down and this is why we have stories of a massive flood in cultures around the world, including even the aborigines of Australia.
But then Völuspá takes an interesting turn and begins to predict the deaths of the Vikings’s ancient gods including Odin who was slain by a giant wolf and Thor who despite winning a battle with a serpent collapsed shortly after and died.
The poem takes on apocalyptic overtones speaking of a darkening sun and a great fire that lit the night sky that killed off many of the remaining Viking gods. According to the researchers, the fire and darkening sun is a reference to the volcanic eruption on Iceland.
The poem goes on to say that with the death of the ancient gods, the Vikings would embrace one God who the poem refers to as the “Almighty who rules over all.” Though it does not refer to Christianity, some suggest the pagan writer had knowledge of the Christian faith.
Whatever the case, the poem was widely read and accepted by the Vikings and was interpreted to mean they should accept the Christian God resulting in mass conversions over the next hundred years.
11 He has made everything appropriate in its time. He has also set eternity in their heart, yet so that man will not find out the work which God has done from the beginning even to the end. (Ecclesiastes 3:11 NASV)
- Huge lava flood, apocalyptic poem drove Vikings to Christianity Study: CP
- Völuspá: Wikipedia
- The Eldgjá eruption: timing, long-range impacts and influence on the Christianisation of Iceland: Springer.com