CNN Photos

Living in the world of Vikings

Popular culture is filled with cliched images of the Vikings: A football mascot with blond braids and a horned helmet likely comes to mind.

But this is far from the reality of this ancient people. Vikings didn’t even wear horned helmets, photographer Thomas Lekfeldt said.

Today, people gather in Scandinavian countries to create more historically accurate scenes of the culture. In 2013, Lekfeldt attended three reenactment events in Denmark and one in Norway.

There is more to the reenactments than just battle scenes. Participants mold silver ornaments over an open fire and cook food — mostly meat — in historically accurate fashion.

Many Danes have Viking ancestors, but that is not a prerequisite to participate in these gatherings. Lekfeldt said some people participate because of interest in the history or possibly the fighting reenactments.

“I guess you are a Viking, in this modern sense of the word, when you decide that you are,” he said.

The fighting also differs from pop culture’s interpretation.

“Some of the modern-day Vikings participate in martial arts or battle sports designed to reconstruct ancient Viking battles,” Lekfeldt said. “Most will tell you, though, that it is about tactics and fighting skills more so than running toward the enemy, shouting and swinging your sword.”

The ancient people had a reputation for violence, but many of their modern counterparts opt out of the battle scenes and focus on the crafts and cooking of the culture.

For the costumes, Lekfeldt said, historical accuracy is important: wool tunics for the men and apron-skirts over dresses for the women. But in his opinion, it is just as important to some to look cool.

“They put on their Viking clothes when they go to the markets and camps, and most wear them for the whole duration of the markets, so visually they are constantly in Viking character,” he said.

Lekfeldt’s images have a cinematic feel, and this is very deliberate.

“For me, it is interesting how the Viking phenomenon borders fact and fiction,” he said. “The modern-day Vikings try to live in a fantasy or fiction world of ancient times. It is almost as if they are living in a movie set that they built themselves.”

They become characters in an ancient world until they have to go home and join the modern one.

- Lauren Russell, CNN