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The Freemasons In The Viking Age – Arvid Ystad (2023)

In 2016 Frimurerne i Vikingtiden was published. It took me some effort to get the book and even more to read it in Norwegian! Since that time the author had been trying to have it published in English. Finally he succeeded. Where the first book was published nicely as a hardcover by a Norwegian publishing house, the English edition is self published through Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing and it comes as a paperback (so far at least). The book has not only been translated, it has also been updated.

About Ystad’s theories, I have written elsewhere (here and here). In short, Ystad is one of the few authors who looks for the origins of Masonic symbolism in the pre Christian past of Northern Europe. In Ystad’s case, he thinks that the Viking rituals of initiations to Freyja, Odin and Thor are the basis for the three degrees of Freemasonry. During the Viking settlement on the British isles, these rituals were introduced the cradle of Freemasonry.

In English, the information that Ystad presents is of course much easier to follow than in Norwegian. The updates in the new edition can be found in more cosmological interpretations of Norse myths.

What makes the book interesting to people who have not necessarily have an interest in the Masonic side of the story, but more in heathenry in general, is that Ystad refers to many Scandinavian publications and that he uses recent archaeological findings. These have been updated for the new edition too. The reader will also be introduced to investigations and findings that are probably unknown outside Scandinavian specialists.

Even though the author refers to Georges Dumézil he came to other conclusions regarding the “functions”. As we saw, the rites of Odin supposedly became the second degree of Freemasonry. Those of Thor the third degree. Also Ystad sees Thor as one half of the “divine twins”, while in Dumézil’s scheme the first and second “function” are ‘doubly occupied’ while the second (where he places Thor) not. The other half of the twin, according to Ystad, may originally have been Loki.

Since 2016 Ystad has been telling that his next book will be about these twins. Now this book has a name: The Myth That Shaped Our Culture.

According to Ystad Vikings founded the city of Jorvik which later became York. For his Masonic information he mostly leans on the famous (and easy to obtain) Duncan’s Masonic Ritual and Monitor (1866) which is the “York rite”. It is but one of many Masonic rituals. As Duncan’s book has been publicly available for many years, Ystad does not shy to quote it in detail. Hence: the book is full of ‘Masonic spoilers’. There are also references to the “Swedish Rite” in which the author worked for three decades. In both cases you can see conclusions based on the peculiarities of these rituals.

This is one of the problems of the book. Fairly disparate elements are compared to also disparate elements of Norse culture (different cultures, different times). This is interesting in a way, but with such an approach you have to present a lot of similarities to make the underlying hypothesis likely. Also there are a lot of “could it be?” type questions and some conclusions of the author would not have been my own.

Indeed, an investigation on shaky ground with many holes and ‘convenient conclusions’. Then again, it is never going to be so easy that we find ritual texts, new versions of which we can trace through time until the dawn of Freemasonry. Speculation will always be involved. Ystad made a brave attempt to present a little-known theory. His attempt even costs him his membership of his mother lodge!

The reason that I heard of the first book, was that it had been picked up by the major German journal Der Spiegel and their publication caused a little stir online. Let us hope that this revised and enlarged edition will also cause a little stir so that this too-little-heard-of theory will reach a larger audience. Ystad’s book is not the ultimate explanation of the origins of Freemasonry, but in 400+ page he certainly shoots enough similarities and theories at you, to make you wonder if Northern Europe [was] one of the sources of Masonic symbolism as Franz Farwerck named one of his books.

2023 Two Pillars Publishing, isbn 8269333700

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