Tattoos with (misunderstood) history
Symbolism behind Q-Shaman, part of the storming of the Capitol
MedievalistOf all the images of last Wednesday's assault on Washington's Capitol, those of Jake Angeli will possibly be the most memorable: with his face painted in the colors of the American flag, his leather hat with bison horns and his naked torso sporting tattoos, he was the focus of the cameras and made it to the congressional podium. The tones of parody should not make us lose sight of the fact that we are facing a new display of the impetus the ideals of white supremacists in the United States and around world are gaining, often in the face of the permissiveness of the establishment.
A few weeks ago we highlighted the connections between conspiracy theory and totalitarianism, and the Q-Shaman tattoos (this is Angeli's alias, because of his affiliation with the QAnon conspiracy movement, according to which the current president of the United States is conducting a secret battle against a satanic, paedophile and cannibalistic network made up of Democratic Party leaders, top Washington officials, Hollywood stars and Jewish tycoons like George Soros) only serve to underline this point. These are not just any tattoos, but represent three motifs associated with Scandinavian paganism.
From top to bottom: the first is the valknut or warrior's knot, a symbol of which only the archaeological record is known and its meaning ignored (but which is associated with Odin, the father of the gods, who will lead the army of warriors killed in combat on the day of Ragnarok, the Scandinavian doomsday); the second is Yggdrasil, the tree of the world; the last is Thor's hammer (Mjölnir), which causes lightning and thunder. Now, what does a man from Phoenix (Arizona) do with these symbols, and what relationship do they have with totalitarianism?
To understand this, we must go back to the 19th century, when the German and Scandinavian Romantics began to study in depth the religion that had been shared in ancient times by the peoples of the Germanic linguistic area (Scandinavians, Dutch, Anglo-Saxons, Germans...). To do so, they had at their disposal the sensational Scandinavian and, above all, Icelandic sources. Christianised much later than their Central European cousins, the Scandinavians had maintained pagan beliefs until the 11th century, and during the 13th and 14th centuries they put them in writing along with a good number of cycles of legends from other Germanic peoples (when Wagner wrote his great tetralogy, for example, he would use above all the Saga of the Volsungs, which, despite being Norwegian and from the 13th century, gathers stories from Central Europe and the 5th century). It was especially in the Germany of the late 19th and early 20th centuries that the vision of an ancient and great communion of Germanic peoples began to be created. Descendants of the Indo-Europeans (the famous Aryan race) as well as the Latins, the Celts or the Slavs among others, the Germanic peoples were united by similar languages and cultures, and by a harsh and warlike religion that represented values of moral and racial purity that had begun to be lost through contact with the Romans and Christianisation.
When, during the 19th century, the archaeologist Gustaf Kossinna also stated that the Indo-European peoples originally came from southern Scandinavia and had spread from there, the jewel was complete: the Germanic race was the closest to the central Indo-European trunk, and its original religion the purest and most authentic. It is not strange that during Nazism the members of the SA and SS performed initiation rituals that they believed to be close to those of Odin's consecrated warriors, and neither is it strange that today's white American supremacists have recovered all this imagery, which is the symbol of a fictitious previous racial unity and purity destroyed by the enemies of the white race.
A vision with little foundation
However, it is becoming increasingly clear to us that this whole vision has little foundation. To begin with, the idea that Indo-European languages came from southern Scandinavia is totally discredited, as is increasingly the idea that the Aryans were a race. Moreover, the Vikings, the main vehicle of transmission of all these myths, could be many things, yet by their nature they could not be a pure race (if this has ever existed in history).
On the other hand, decades of studies have allowed us to understand that the conception that has come to us of the Nordic religion is a very particular one, that of the medieval Scandinavians, a particularly militarised people: without detracting from the treasure it represents, the complexity and richness of the broad Germanic mythology went much further. There are even those who believe that the god Odin himself, as the Nordic sources show us, possesses numerous syncretic characteristics, taken perhaps from peoples as little Indo-European as the Finns.
The fact is that fetishising the past always leads to impoverishment and often, as in the case of Angeli - who was born in 1988 and has been known for months as a fervent supporter of Donald Trump - leads, essentially, to ridicule.