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What’s in a Name? Aesirist Revisionism in the Sword Worlds

This article originally appeared in the March/April 2022 issue.

The following essay is excerpted from a preview of a forthcoming work, Sagamaal and the Historiography of Aesirism, by Professor Musush Biisana, which was published in the first quarter 1121 edition of Apostate History, a Lunion School of Economics journal.

“The rise of Aesirism sparked a general interest in the Sword Worlders’ [Old Terran] Scandinavian ancestors, and many practices from the so-called ‘Viking’ era [of Old Terran Scandinavia] have been updated and brought into modern-day Sword Worlder culture.”

— Sword Worlds: The Day After Ragnarok

In a recent work of Imperial scholarship, Sword Worlds society is described as being heavily influenced by the culture of Old Terra’s Scandinavia1. Yet there were no indications of these Scandinavian or “Nordic” origins when the Sword Worlds were briefly surveyed in a seminal, pre-War Imperial star atlas2. On the other hand, another piece of widely-read Imperial scholarship published during the Fifth Frontier War observes that the “original settlers of the Sword Worlds were derived from Germanic and Nordic stock (old Terran cultural groups), but these terms only had linguistic meaning by this time.”3 This Imperial scholar goes on to say, “The peculiar culture of the Sword Worlds developed out of local conditions, heavily influenced by Solomani culture.” This wartime essay also identifies an unnamed “official language of the Sword Worlds”, describing it as “a variant of [Old Terran] Icelandic, borrowing heavily from other [Old Terran] Nordic languages as well as from [Old Terran] Germanic tongues and from Vilani.” The essay offers no explanation for the historical origins of this “official” language.

The more recent Imperial scholarship expands upon the supposed Scandinavian influences on Sword World society originally described in the wartime essay. These influences are claimed to have their origins in the cultural composition of the original settlers who came from the Old Earth Union to the world they named Gram, an “odd mixture” of former Old Earth Union Loyalist military units including the “8th Scandinavian Army Corps” and “three German Jäger [light infantry] battalions.” Here, in more detail, are the “original settlers … derived from Germanic and Nordic stock”—or Old Terran cultural-linguistic groups, at least—of the wartime scholarship.

We also learn from this recent Imperial scholarship that “almost 80% of the original settlers spoke Sagamaal, a variant of [Old Terran] Icelandic” which is said to have also borrowed “heavily from other [Old Terran] Nordic languages as well as from [Old Terran] Germanic tongues and from Vilani.” The original Sagamaal “was a reconstructed language intended to be much like [Old Terran Scandinavian] Viking-age Icelandic” which had its origins in the reactionary Cultural Roots Revival on Terra in the early decades of the Old Earth Union. According to these Imperial scholars, for the original settlers on Gram, “Sagamaal was the single language spoken by the most people—and although it was truly native to none of them, it quickly became a lingua franca.”

A more nuanced analysis sees this historiography, especially the supposed influence of Old Terran Scandinavian culture, as problematic, noting, for example, that few of the original Sword Worlds were named from Scandinavian sources. Yes, there is the first-settled world, Gram, seemingly named for a sword from Scandinavian legend but actually named for the Sword-class warship which brought the original Sword Worlders from the Old Earth Union. None of the four Sword Worlds originally settled from Gram—Joyeuse, Colada, Tizon and Hrunting—were named from Scandinavian sources. Of those seven Sword Worlds settled in the second wave of original colonization from Gram—including Balisarda (the official name of Sacnoth at original settlement), Excalibur, Galatine (the original name of Beater), Durendal, and Dyrnwyn—only Tyrfing and Hofud have names derived from Scandinavian legend.

The names of those six Sword Worlds settled in the third wave of original colonization from Sacnoth (itself renamed for “a sword from [Old Terran] literary fiction”)—Orcrist, Anduril, Narsil, Beater (Galatine renamed), Sting and Biter—”were not legendary or mythical [but] were taken from the works of a popular pre-starflight Terran writer whose works had been carried on the Gram and had by then achieved legendary status on the Sword Worlds.” (One wonders how so many of these early “Sagamaal-is-our-lingua-franca” Sword Worlders were able to read these original-Anglic-language works—perhaps there is a different explanation here too.) Even when the final, three Sword Worlds were originally settled from Gram their names—Isenfang (the name of Margesi when it was originally settled), Haulteclere (the original name for Aesirist-renamed Mjolnir) and Morglay (the original name for Aesirist-renamed Gungnir)—did not come from Scandinavian legend. (Though its etymology is unclear, Isenfang can be translated from some Scandinavian languages as “ice cap,” so it’s possible the world’s name does have a Scandinavian origin.)

Of the twenty original Sword Worlds, only the names of three—Gram, Tyrfing and Hofud—have origins in Scandinavian legend. Of the others, five—Joyeuse, Haulteclere (later Mjolnir), Morglay (later Gungnir), Balisarda (later Sacnoth), and Durendal—were named from the ancient Carolingian legends of Terra, three—Excalibur, Galatine (later Beater), and Dyrnwyn—were named from the ancient Arthurian legends of Terra, three—Colada, Tizon, and Hrunting—were named from other, ancient legendary Terran sources, and five—or seven, including the renamed Sacnoth and Beater—were named from ancient Terran literary sources which are not “Scandinavian”. It is difficult to understand how these world names were chosen, over a period spanning decades, if we are to believe that the people who named them were “culturally-linguistic Germanic and Nordic” and used a reconstructed version of an ancient Scandinavian language as their lingua franca.

An original Sword Worlds society heavily influenced by an artificial, reconstructed language and culture from Old Terran history is a commonplace contemporary view—as understood in the aftermath of the Swords Worlds defeat in the Fifth Frontier War (the “day after Ragnarok”, occurring more than a millennium and a half since the founding of the Sword Worlds)—but a more careful reading of Sword Worlds history suggests that these supposed “Scandinavian origins” are a much later phenomenon, arising with the advent of Aesirism seven centuries after the founding of the Sword Worlds. For much of their early history most Sword Worlders more likely spoke a variant of Anglic while an early version of Sagamaal was likely spoken fluently only by the priesthood of a small, proto-Aesirist cult on the fringes of Gram society. The idea that Sword Worlders society had its origins in the ancient Scandinavians of Old Terra is likewise a more recent innovation, propagated by Aesirists in an effort lend legitimacy to their faith by attempting to ground it broadly in the earliest days of the Sword Worlds.

Professor Musush Biisana is an Imperial Border Office Visiting Fellow at the University of Fœrstaberg