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Middle Ages without borders: a conversation on medievalism

Tommaso di Carpegna Falconieri
Pierre Savy
Lila Yawn

d) Heavy metal medievalisms: a matter of identity?

2) Local signifiers and the Early Middle Ages in global communities: the case of Wardruna

Ruth Barratt-Peacock

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1This paper argues that, although questions of historicity and ahistoricity are central to medievalism, some medieval living history cultures and scene-adjacent media are better understood as primarily spatial practices. I draw on Bernd Mahr’s model theory and spatial hermeneutics to reimagine medievalism as a set of modelling processes. In this case, field research in the German medieval re-enactment and living history scene is combined with a case study of the Norwegian metal band Wardruna as examples of a particular spatial practice expressed as a medievalist model.

2Model theory posits that models are created as part of a modelling process. This process reduces and idealises a complex matrix into a model, which carries over specific information according to its intended application. This means that there is both an of and a for relationship at play (Mahr 2008). In the case of medievalism, particularly neo-medievalism, it is of importance to note that models will, in turn, function as the basis for new models. Thus, the of relationship can refer to previous medievalist models or a mixture of these and other influences, such as the resurgence of a localised, material, and spatially expressed sacred—as it does in this case.

3Wardruna create soundscapes which combine the material and imagined aspects of space through their use of recordings of natural sounds. They frame these in a way that draws attention to the process of relating to existent material natural surroundings as sacred space rather than celebrating an imagined space encoded as “historical,” “medieval,” or “Norse.” Instead of perpetuating the Norse concept common in European Viking and black metal (Helden 2017), Wardruna’s music invites adaptation to the listener’s experience of their local landscape through a heterotopic mixture of lived material praxis and imagined ahistorical spatial encodings.

4The mixture of pseudo-shamanistic ritual, old instruments, languages, and materials such as bone in Wardruna’s music, coupled with modern technology and the materiality of sound sampling, disrupts set spatial norms in several ways. It disturbs our conception of music as virtual space, of nature as inanimate and material (profane), and of religion as vertical and transcendental. Instead, it favours a localised and material sacred.

5Examination of interviews, video clips, and live concerts demonstrates how this music attempts to compensate for a perceived lack of the sacred in modern life. By focussing on lived practice, the music becomes a tool for relating to any space in a specific way. It is not the geographical location itself but rather this way of relating to it and encoding it, which is culturally and geographically translatable.

6The similarity of this model to that which my previous research has identified as a primary motivator for involvement in Germany’s living history and neopagan cultures offers an explanation for the band’s popularity in these scenes. That is, although they do utilise a Norse aesthetic, it is not the key aspect (the cargo in the sense of Mahr) transported by their respective medievalist models.

7My research on living history and re-enactment has shown that, although an interest in history and/or medievalist media is an important factor in people’s entry into the scene, and although a knowledge of history and craftsmanship are the primary ways to accrue subcultural capital there, the most important aspects of the culture for its participants have less to do with an historical imaginary than with spatial relations. These spatial relations are defined in concrete contemporary forms of material and social production.

8The ritualization of music in place as place in Wardruna’s performance practice reflects a similar trend. In each case, there is a concern over the environmental impact of consumption practices, a reliance on virtual sociality, and communal and corporeal disenfranchisement. Wardruna’s music has taken on a liturgical function in some religious practices adjacent to the re-enactment and living history scene. The success of Wardruna’s music amongst early medieval reenactors makes sense, not because they are representing the Middle Ages or a specific culture but because their music reflects a similar approach to space and reacts to what appears to be a widespread and fundamental human need in our time.


9Barratt-Peacock 2015
Helden 2017
Mahr 2008


Friedrich-Schiller University

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