Feb 19, 2017

The Scandinavian Destiny

How The Future of Nations Can Be No
Less Interesting Than That of Individuals

Jorge Luis Borges

The Scandinavian Destiny
A Norwegian fiord or fjord (photo). A fiord is a long, narrow
inlet with steep sides or cliffs, in a valley carved by glacial activity.

A 2012 Editorial Note:

What is the theosophical importance of lands situated relatively near the North Pole? 

Such regions have the geological memory of distant points in the timeline of our planet’s life. The North Pole represents Atma, the seventh and highest principle of human consciousness in theosophy. Nations living near the North polar region deserve special attention. They may have a natural, involuntary relation to some higher levels of planetary consciousness which are also present in every part of the Earth.  In some mysterious, indirect ways, these countries seem to help open a path to the common future of all nations.

In her work “The Secret Doctrine”, Helena P. Blavatsky explains:

“….It is the north pole, the country of ‘Meru’, which is the seventh division, as it answers to the Seventh principle (or fourth metaphysically), of the occult calculation, for it represents the region of Atma, of pure soul, and Spirituality. Hence Pushkara is shown as the seventh zone, or dwipa, which encompasses the Kshira Ocean, or Ocean of milk….” [1]  

Just as the other main regions of the planet, Scandinavia has accompanied present humanity for ages.  In his text below, Jorge Luis Borges suggests - giving us a few practical examples - that Scandinavian countries live things before they are lived by humanity at large.  In a conversation in Buenos Aires in the late 1970s, Borges said Swedish and Norwegians live in a way a few centuries in advance as regards other regions of the Earth.  

It is not difficult to see that present day Scandinavian culture is marked by social justice and humanitarian activities often having a planetary dimension.  Life in the Nordic countries seems to anticipate in more than one aspect the future humanity whose guiding principle will be universal brotherhood.

The long past of Scandinavian region is equally inspiring, and H.P. Blavatsky explained in the late 1880s:

“Rudbeck, a Swedish scientist, tried to prove about two centuries ago that Sweden was the Atlantis of Plato. He thought, even, that he had found in the configuration of ancient Upsala, the situation and measurements given by the Greek sage of the capital of ‘Atlantis’. As Bailly proved, Rudbeck was mistaken; but so was Bailly likewise, and still more. For Sweden and Norway had formed part and parcel of ancient Lemuria, and also of Atlantis on the European side, just as Eastern and Western Siberia and Kamschatka had belonged to it, on the Asiatic.” [2]

Writing about the “Land of the Eternal Sun”, H. P. B. said:

“…The main point for us lies not in the agreement or disagreement of the Naturalists as to the duration of geological periods, but rather in their perfect accord on one point, for a wonder, and this a very important one. They all agree that during ‘The Miocene Age’ - whether one or ten million years ago - Greenland and even Spitzbergen, the remnants of our Second or Hyperborean Continent, ‘had almost a tropical climate. Now the pre-Homeric Greeks had preserved a vivid tradition of this ‘Land of the Eternal Sun’, whither their Apollo journeyed yearly. ‘During the Miocene Age, Greenland (in N. Lat. 70 degrees) developed an abundance of trees, such as the Yew, the Redwood, the Sequoia, allied to the Californian species, Beeches, Planes, Willows, Oaks, Poplars and Walnuts, as well as a Magnolia and a Zamia’, says Science; in short Greenland had Southern plants unknown to Northern regions.” [3]

Such a North-South climate connection will be significant for those interested in the changes of location that take place from time to time regarding the polar regions of our Earth, and which are unavoidably related to stronger climate changes.

As to the literary connection between ancient Scandinavia and the ancient Greeks, it is commented upon by H.P.B. in her work  “Isis Unveiled”, and she says:

“Homer’s Odyssey surpasses in fantastic nonsense all the tales of the Arabian Nights combined; and notwithstanding that, many of his myths are now proved to be something else besides the creation of the old poet’s fancy. The Laestrygonians, who devoured the companions of Ulysses, are traced to the huge cannibal [4] race, said in primitive days to inhabit the caves of Norway. Geology verified through her discoveries some of the assertions of Homer, supposed for so many ages to have been but poetical hallucinations. The perpetual daylight enjoyed by this race of Laestrygonians indicates that they were inhabitants of the North Cape, where, during the whole summer, there is perpetual daylight. The Norwegian fiords are perfectly described by Homer in his Odyssey, x. 110; and the gigantic stature of the Laestrygonians is demonstrated by human bones of unusual size found in caves situated near this region, and which the geologists suppose to have belonged to a race extinct long before the Aryan immigration. Charybdis, as we have seen, has been recognized in the maëlstrom; and the Wandering Rocks [5] in the enormous icebergs of the Arctic seas.” [6]

On the blessed “Hyperborean” land, H.P.B. comments:

“(….) And now this natural question rises. If the Greeks knew, in the days of Homer, of a Hyperborean land, i.e., a blessed land beyond the reach of Boreas, the god of winter and of the hurricane, an ideal region which the later Greeks and their classics have vainly tried to locate by searching for it beyond Scythia, a country where nights were short and days long, and beyond that land a country where the sun never set and the palm grew freely - if they knew of all this, who then told them of it? In their day, and for ages previously, Greenland must certainly have been already covered with perpetual snows, with never-thawing ice, just as it is now. Everything tends to show that the land of the short nights and the long days was Norway or Scandinavia, beyond which was the blessed land of eternal light and summer; and to know of this, their tradition must have descended to the Greeks from some people more ancient than themselves, who were acquainted with those climatic details of which the Greeks themselves could know nothing. Even in our day, science suspects beyond the Polar seas, at the very circle of the Arctic Pole, the existence of a sea which never freezes and a continent which is ever green. The archaic teachings, and likewise the Puranas - for one who understands the allegories of the latter - contain the same statements. Suffice, then, to us the strong probability that a people, now unknown to history, lived during the Miocene period of modern science, at a time when Greenland was an almost tropical land.” [7]

The Scandinavian Destiny”, the thought-provoking text by Borges,  is reproduced from “Selected Non-Fictions”, J.L.B., edited by Eliot Weinberger, Penguin Books, UK, 560 pp., 1999, pp. 377-381.

In order to better understand both H.P.B. and Borges and the numerous implications of many a sentence written by them, readers often say that they must be read more slowly and with a deeper attention than conventional authors.  

(Carlos Cardoso Aveline)


[1] “The Secret Doctrine”, Helena Blavatsky, Theosophy Co., Los Angeles, Volume II, p. 403.

[2] “The Secret Doctrine”, Volume II, p. 402. As to Siberia, Russia and Scandinavia, in the following text Jorge Luis Borges refers to the fact that Russia was founded by a Scandinavian man named Rurik.

[3] “The Secret Doctrine”, Vol. II, pp. 11.

[4] Note by H. P. Blavatsky: “Why not to the sacrifices of men in ancient worship?”

[5] Note by H. P. Blavatsky: “Odyssey, XII, 71.”

[6] “Isis Unveiled”, H. P. Blavatsky, Theosophy Co., Los Angeles, Vol. I, p. 549.

[7] “The Secret Doctrine”, Vol. II, pp. 11-12. Information on the distant future of present humanity can also be obtained in Scandinavian traditions.  See “The Secret Doctrine”, by H.P.B., Vol. II, p. 100.  On Scandinavia, see also “The Secret Doctrine”, Vol. II, p.  7;  p.  97; pp. 345-347; and pp. 423-424. These, however, are but a few references made by HPB on Scandinavia.  There are others.

The Scandinavian Destiny

Jorge Luis Borges

That the destiny of nations can be no less interesting and poignant than that of individuals is a thing Homer did not know, but Virgil did, and the Hebrews felt it intensely. Another problem (the Platonic problem) is that of investigating whether nations exist in a verbal or a real way, whether they are collective words or eternal entities; the fact is that we can imagine them, and Troy’s misfortune can touch us more than Priam’s. Lines such as this one from the Purgatorio:

Vieni a veder la tua Roma chepiagne
[Come see your Rome that weeps]

are proof of the poignancy of the generic, and Manuel Machado has successfully lamented, in an unquestionably beautiful poem, the melancholy destiny of the Arab lineages “que todo lo tuvieron y todo lo perdieron” [who had everything and lost everything]. Here, we might briefly recall the differential traits of this destiny: the revelation of Divine Unity that almost fourteen centuries ago brought together the shepherds in a desert and plunged them into a battle that has not ceased and whose limits were Aquitaine and the Ganges; the cult of Aristotle, which the Arabs taught Europe, perhaps without entirely understanding it, as if they were repeating or transcribing a coded message…. All that aside, it is the common vicissitude of peoples to have and to lose. To be on the verge of having everything and to lose everything is the tragic destiny of Germany. Rarer and more dreamlike is the Scandinavian destiny, which I shall attempt to define.

Jordanes, towards the middle of the sixth century, said of Scandinavia that this island (the Latin cartographers and historians took it for an island) was like the workshop or seedpod of nations; Scandinavia’s sudden eruptions at the most heterogenous points of the globe would seem to confirm this viewpoint, from which De Quincey inherited the phrase officinia gentium. In the ninth century, the Vikings invaded London, demanded from Paris a tribute of seven thousand pounds of silver, and pillaged the ports of Lisbon, Bordeaux, and Seville. Hasting, by a wily strategem, took control of Luna, in Etruria, put its defenders to the knife, and burned down the city, in the belief that he had seized Rome. Thorgils, chief of the White Foreigners (Finn Gaill), ruled the north of Ireland; after the libraries were destroyed, the clerics fled; one of the exiles was John Scotus Erigena. Rurik, a Swede, founded the kingdom of Russia, whose capital city, before it was called Novgorod, was called Holmgard.[1]  Toward the year 1000, the Scandinavians, under Leif Eriksson, reached the coast of America. No one bothered them, but one morning (as Erik the Red’s Saga tells it) many men disembarked from canoes made of leather and stared at them in a kind of stupor. “They were dark and very ill-looking, and the hair on their heads was ugly; they had large eyes and broad cheeks.” The Scandinavians gave them the name of skraelingar, inferior people. Neither the Scandinavians nor the Eskimos knew that the moment was historic; America and Europe looked upon each other in all innocence. A century later, disease and the inferior people had done away with the colonists. The annals of Iceland say: “In 1121, Erik, Bishop of Greenland, departed in search of Vinland.” We know nothing of his fate; both the bishop and Vinland (America) were lost.

Viking epitaphs are scattered across the face of the earth on runic stones. One of them reads:

“Tola erected this stone in memory of his son Harald, brother of Ingvar. They departed in search of gold, and went far and sated the eagle in the East. They died in the South, in Arabia”.

Another says:

“May God have pity on the souls of Orm and Gunnlaug, but their bodies lie in London.”

This one was found on an island in the Black Sea:

“Grani built this barrow in memory of Karl, his friend.”

And this one was engraved on a marble lion found in Piraeus, which was moved to Venice:

“Warriors carved the runic letters…. Men of Sweden put it on the lion.”

Conversely, Greek and Arab coins and gold chains and old jewels brought from the Orient are often discovered in Norway.

Snorri Sturluson, at the beginning of the thirteenth century, wrote a series of biographies of the Kings of the North; the geographic nomenclature of this work, which covers four centuries of history, is another testimony to the breadth of the Scandinavian sphere; its pages speak of Jorvik (York); of Biarmaland, which is Archangel or the Urals; of Nörvesuud (Gibraltar); of Serkland (Land of the Saracens), which borders the Islamic kingdoms; of Blaaland (Blue Land, Land of Blacks), which is Africa; of Saxland or Saxony, which is Germany, of Helluland (Land of Smooth Stones), which is Labrador; of Markland (Land of Forests), which is Newfoundland; and of Miklagard (Large Population), which is Constantinople, where, until the fall of the East, the Byzantine Emperor’s guardsmen were Swedes and Anglo-Saxons. Despite the vastness of this list, the work is not the epic of a Scandinavian empire. Hernán Cortés and Francisco Pizarro conquered lands for their king: the Vikings’ prolonged expeditions were individual. “They lacked political ambitions,” as Douglas Jerrold explains. After a century, the Normans (men of the North) who, under Rolf, settled in the province of Normandy and gave it their name, had forgotten their language, and were speaking French….

Medieval art is inherently allegorical; thus, in the Vita nuova, an autobiographical narrative, the chronology of events is subordinated to the number 9, and Dante speculated that Beatrice herself was a nine, “that is, a miracle, whose root is the Trinity.” That happened around 1292; a hundred years earlier, the Icelanders had written the first sagas [2], which are realism in its most perfect form, as this sober passage from Grettir’s Saga proves:

“Days before St. John’s eve, Thorbjörn rode his horse to Bjarg. He had a helmet on his head, a sword in his belt, and a lance in his hand, with a very wide blade. At daybreak it rained. Among Atli’s serfs, some were reaping hay; others had gone fishing to the North, to Hornstrandir. Atli was in his house, with few other people. Thorbjörn arrived around midday. Alone, he rode to the door. It was closed and there was no one outside. Thorbjörn knocked and hid behind the house so as not to be seen from the door. The servants heard the knock and a woman went to open the door. Thorbjörn saw her but did not let himself be seen, because he had another purpose. The woman returned to the chamber. Atli asked who was outside. She said she had seen no one and as they were speaking of it, Thorbjörn pounded forcefully.”

“Then Atli said: ‘Someone is looking for me and bringing a message that must be very urgent’.  He opened the door and looked out: there was no one. By now it was raining very hard, so Atli did not go out; with a hand on the doorframe, he looked all around. At that moment, Thorbjörn jumped out and with both hands thrust the lance into the middle of his body.”

“As he took the blow, Atli said: ‘The blades they use now are so wide’. Then he fell face down on the threshold. The women came out and found him dead. From his horse, Thorbjörn shouted that he was the killer and returned home.”

The classical rigor of this prose coexist (the fact is remarkable) with a baroque poetry; the poets did not say “raven” but “red swan” or “bloody swan”; they did not say “corpse” but “meat” or “corn” of “the bloody swan”. “Sword’s water” or “death’s dew” were their words for blood; “pirate’s moon” for a shield….

The realism of the Spanish picaresque suffers from a sermonizing tone and a certain prudishness regarding sexual matters, though not with respect to excrement; French realism oscillates between erotic stimulation and what Paul Groussac termed “garbage dump photography”; the realism of the United States goes from mawkishness to cruelty; that of the sagas [3] represents an impartial observation. With fitting exaltation, William Paton Ker wrote: “The great achievement of the older world in its final days was in the prose histories of Iceland, which had virtue enough in them to change the whole world, if they had only been known and understood” (English Literature, Medieval, 1912), and on another page of another book he recalled “the great Icelandic school, the school that died without an heir until all its methods were reinvented, independently, by the great novelists, after centuries of floundering and uncertainty” (Epic and Romance, 1896).

These facts suffice, in my understanding, to define the strange and futile destiny of the Scandinavian people. In universal history, the wars and books of Scandinavia are as if they had never existed; everything remains isolated and without a trace, as if it had come to pass in a dream or in the crystal balls where clairvoyants gaze. In the twelfth century, the Icelanders discovered the novel - the art of Flaubert, the Norman - and this discovery is as secret and sterile, [4] for the economy of the world, as their discovery of America.

[1953] [Translation, Esther Allen]


[1] On Scandinavia, Siberia and Russia, see note [2] at “A 2012 Editorial Note”, above. (CCA)

[2]Note by Borges: ) The Dictionary of the Royal Academy of Spain (1947) reads: “Saga (from the German sage, legend) f. Each one of the poetic legends contained mainly in the two collections of early heroic and mythological traditions of ancient Scandinavia, called the Eddas.” This entry is an almost inextricable amalgamation of errors. Saga is derived from the Icelandic verb segja (to say), not from sage, a word which did not mean “legend” in medieval German; the sagas are prose narratives, not poetical legends; they are not contained in “los dos Eddas” [the two Eddas] (and whose gender is feminine). The most ancient songs of the Edda date from the ninth century; the most ancient sagas, from the twelfth.

[3] The Eddas and the sagas are often discussed in theosophy.  H. P. B. made references to them in various places in the works “Isis Unveiled” and “The Secret Doctrine”. See also “Collected Writings”, H. P. Blavatsky, TPH, volume XV, p. 161, “Edda”. (CCA)

[4] “Sterile”. With the appearance of a criticism, Borges closes his article without obviously expressing his admiration for Scandinavian nations. This is a writing technique used to bring to a text a sense of “perceived balance”. From a theosophical viewpoint, however, such a “sterile” action and influence over human history is occultly more fruitful, precisely because in an outward dimension it does avoid “denser levels of karma”. The Vikings linked many points of the globe together, but they did not make formal colonies or provoke long bloody colonial wars. There is no need to say that Borges admired them for this. (CCA)