Review of The 13th Warrior
This beautiful film opens in the splendor of the ancient Middle East and we find our hero, Ahmad ibn Fahdlan, cast far away from home for having an affair with a married woman.
He is banished for having an affair with a king’s wife to the land of what is called the home of the “barbarians” aka the Norsemen- Odin’s men, pagan Heathens! He and his hosts are told by a holy woman 13 men must go to the aid of Kind Hrothgar- yeah ANOTHER Hollywood take on the epic Beowulf- and the 13th Warrior will be no Northman.
As a daughter of Odin, every time I watch this film, I’m filled with pride in such a way the glamour of Hollywood can only instill- but more than that, I’m entertained. Here is a trailer.
Ahmad ibn Fahdlan was a real person, who wrote an account from of the Norse ship burials. He was a 10th century Muslim trader and traveler, yet he offended no king, and was not known to be an adulterer. He never went on the epic trip to save Hrothgar’s people from the dreaded Grendel! The real Ahmad was actually a proselytizer, and was in the good graces of his employers. Islam had already begun to be spread to Europe by that time, and the rea; Ahmad was intent on furthering that. You will be hard pressed to find a modern Heathen or Pagan who respects the colonizer mindset, but still, he recorded what he saw, and we are blessed with his accounts. These accounts helped inspire the book by Michael Crichton titled Eaters of the Dead, which the film The 13th Warrior is based off of.
Ironically, the film is considered a huge box office flop, losing an estimated $129 Million! However, I disagree with popular distain for the film. It’s actually one of my favorites. The plot is the simple hero wins/ bad guy loses with lots of great action sequences, phenomenal sets and costumes, good acting, and a touch of romance.
Rather than outline the whole film, I’ll share some things, as somebody who studies history and who is an Odin’s daughter that are featured in the film. There are also things that are historically accurate, and others are complete fabrication. Read on.
- The boldness and bravery of the Norsemen is represented well. They are unafraid of challenges, even of storms at sea. They laughed and trusted their father god Odin to deliver them. When they were at sea in a mist, they called “ODIN!” many times loudly, and fired flaming arrows in hopes of finding land. They did! They never doubted all would be well. Some doubt the faith of the pre Xtian Heathens, but their faith was strong, and unshakable.
- Ahmad came from the land of science, mathematics, spices and perfumes. He was not impressed by the cleanliness and basic hygienic practices of the Norse. However- while foreigners did not have a lot of good things to say about Viking’s cleanliness, it must be remembered Vikings were not sitting at a desk all day or in some royal caravan being tended to by servants. They had to hunt, farm, fish, build and work on the homestead, tend livestock, and when traveling- they were on ships, and then pillaging at times, and trading others. All of us would get sweaty and not be dressed all fine and fancy doing these things. Yes, Middle Eastern travelers did not really understand the hygienic practices of the Vikings, that’s for sure. However, the Vikings buried with their grooming tools, changed clothes frequently, and kept their beards neatly barbered. The long, lush hair the actors had in the 13th warrior reflected the pride Norse men took in their hair, but not all of them had long luxuriant locks like in the film. Some wore braids, topknots, and ponytails, and some had hair shorter in back and longer in front. Still- damned fine hair though!
- There are parts detailing religion that are accurate and some that are not. First the accurate parts show the fact somebody was ritually murdered to go along with the fallen loved one in the ship funeral. The Viking Prayer is said more than once in the film. I can find no source dating that back to his time- however, there are some similar things said in the prayer as the girl was written to have said . Keep in mind she was basically drugged, and said a LOT of things. She said she saw her master calling her and she saw her family. One source online flat out states the prayer was written for the film. Furthermore, some historians dispute Ahmad’s account stating it does not match what is said by other accounts of funerals. Then there are those who swear it’s accurate.
- The Heathens were immediately hospitable to Ahmad and his friend, and took them in as they would friends or family. In the Havamal, Odin is quoted extensively about how to be a proper host and how a guest should likewise behave. Not all hosts were good ones, and a guest had to keep their wits about them and be polite. It was valued and respected of chieftains and kings to be gracious and generous, welcoming travelers and guests . If you have not read this yet, here is a link online where you can read it all. Havamal English Text (ragweedforge.com)
- Inclusiveness was something today’s racists who flock to Heathenry are unaware the Norse were known for. In the film, one of the warriors speaks fluent Greek, and they treat Ahmad fairly once they realize he’s a valued member of the team. BUT note that is only once he has proven himself. “Viking” has been proven by historians to be a job description, not a race. In burial discoveries, Vikings are not all one race, but from different Nations. The Norse traded, traveled, and settled in other Nations, and did not always marry somebody from back home. The British Isles was heavily populated by Germanics, and many of us have our DNA charts to show the results. If in reality “the blood of Odin” flows through the veins of all with Germanic blood, even 1% of that ancestry included one in that. As any people who travel, and migrate, not just marriage, but friendships and adoptions happened with people who did not share their same ancestry. The Visigoths sacked Rome, the Vikings took control of parts of Greece. They even made it to North America before Columbus did. They went all over. They did not just “keep with their own.” Like any people, they met, loved, and befriended others wherever they went, learned new languages, and helped carry their own and other goods and cultures all over the World- waaay back before the Industrial Revolution and the Internet. Pretty cool.
- They had strong belief in the occult, magic, and divination. In what was a very dramatic depiction of what we would call either an oracle, a psychic, or a witch, an elderly Seer is called upon when Hrothgar’s son, Wulfgar comes and asks the warriors to come help. She beings what looks like a bag of bones out, and in a most dramatic voice caterwauls they WILL go and help, and she rattles on details that 13 men must go. The men immediately act on her instructions, boldly volunteering. Even Ahmad does as she says. The Ynglinga Saga and Saga of Erik the Red both write about what are called Seidr or Volvas. Even Odin consulted a Volva for help- and he was the father of magic and divination. Another holy woman is consulted in the film, and this one is more of a cunning woman, living away from the settlement, and reached out to for information about the attacking people, or “monsters”. Like the pre Xtian Heathens, the people in the film take these holy people very seriously.
- The Venus of Willendorf’s image is used in this film to denote the goddess of the attackers. I swear the first time it’s shown, it looks just like a lump of poop to me. The followers of this goddess on the film are cannibals who dress in the skins of bears or wolves, and who people think are actually animals. This touches on the stories we have of the Berserkers, and Ulfhednars, warriors who hooked the strength of bears and wolves, who people believed actually BECAME the animals. However, yes, one attestation called them tasters of blood- because they killed so ferociously- but that did not mean they were cannibals. Maybe it happened, but it’s not included as a typical practice of theirs in surviving lore. The Venus of Willendorf is furthermore not been linked to any violent traditions or people, and the images of her don’t look like poop.
- Alcohol was indeed a large part of Norse Heathen culture, so much so , it was said Odin ate and drank only wine for sustenance. But after a battle, Ahmad is told mead is made from honey, so it’s not forbidden to Muslims and he chugs that wine kike there is no tomorrow. Alcohol was a large part of pre Islamic Arabian culture, and Mohammed said the sins alcohol brings outweighed the benefits. It was initially discouraged, and within four years of Mohammad’s migration from Mecca to Medina- which happened in 622, alcohol was forbidden. Ahmad lived from 879 to 960 and the alcohol ban would have been in action then. He would not have drank the mead.
There are multiple more points that could be discussed where the film either got historic facts right or didn’t, but the fact is, I never watch this to learn things.
This is one of my favorite films I watch often, and simply can’t get enough of. Most of the people I know love it as well- although Omar Sharif was very unhappy with it, and could not say enough about how he disliked it…It’s not historically accurate, so don’t watch it to learn anything, but it’s fun, interesting, and a good watch all around.
About the Author:
Saoirse is a practicing witch, and initiated Wiccan of an Eclectic Tradition.
A recovered Catholic, she was raised to believe in heaven and hell, that there is only one god, and only one way to believe. As she approached her late 20’s, little things started to show her this was all wrong. She was most inspired by the saying “God is too big to fit into one religion” and after a heated exchange with the then associate pastor of the last Xtian church she attended, she finally realized she was in no way Xtian, and decided to move on to see where she could find her spiritual home.
Her homecoming to her Path was after many years of being called to The Old Ways and the Goddess, and happened in Phoenix, Arizona. She really did rise from her own ashes!
Upon returning to Ohio, she thought Chaos Magic was the answer, and soon discovered it was actually Wicca. She was blessed with a marvelous mentor, Lord Shadow, and started a Magical Discussion Group at local Metaphysical Shop Fly By Night. The group was later dubbed A Gathering of Paths. For a few years, this group met, discussed, did rituals, fellowship, and volunteering together, and even marched as a Pagan group with members of other groups at the local gay Pride Parade for eight years.
All the while, she continued studying with her mentor, and is still studying for Third Degree, making it to Second Degree thus far.
She is a gifted tarot reader, spellworker, teacher, and was even a resident Witch at a Westerville place dubbed The Parlor for a time.
Aside from her magical practice, she is a crocheter, beader, painter, and a good cook. She has been a clown and children’s entertainer, a Nursing Home Activities Professional, a Cavern Tour Guide, a Retail Cashier, and a reader in local shops. Her college degree is a BA in English Writing. She tried her hand at both singing and playing bagpipes, and…well…let’s just say her gifts lie elsewhere! She loves gardening, reading, antiques, time with friends and soul kin, and lots and lots of glorious color bedecking her small home!
On the encouragement of a loved one several years back, she searched for a publication to write for, and is right at home at PaganPagesOrg.
She is currently residing in Central Ohio with her husband, and furbabies.
Saoirse can be contacted at [email protected].