The Florida Viking Festival, a historical reenactment group, takes participants of a trip through time to the golden era of the Viking Age.
On Saturday, hundreds of thousands of revelers invaded Tampa in the name of piracy, beads and excess for the annual Gasparilla parade celebrating the likely fictional pirate Jose Gaspar. Some 25 miles to the east, Plant City saw an invasion of its own as Vikings took to Edward Medard Park.
“Remember one thing about Viking psychology at this time in the world,” their leader, Jarl Erik the Blood Axe shouted through the fur
of his thick and greying beard. “They don’t fear death.”
“Shield wall!” he calls to his horde as their round shields slam together in a heavy whoosh, creating a solid barrier of wood.
“Advance!” they move forward as one, spears thrusting through the empty space between shields.
“Measured step!” they find their pace, set by the tallest among them standing in the middle. To the edges go the shieldmaidens, legendarily fierce women warriors particularly adept at close-quarter combat, ready to cut down enemies attempting to break through their flank.
For a few hours every Saturday, the park is theirs. They laugh together, train together, fight together and work on recreating with historical accuracy life in the Viking Age.
Since last summer, the Florida Viking Festival, a volunteer historical reenactment group, has called the park its home for the free Viking fitness and training sessions they offer. The festival was founded by longtime reenactor Brent Feagans, who becomes Erik the Blood Axe, the group's chieftain or “jarl” (pronounced yarl). He’s been involved in living history for more than two decades through pirate, medieval and Renaissance festivals.
A quest into his own Scandinavian heritage, which began 10 years ago, combined with the rise in popularity of the famed Scandinavian warriors through shows like History Channel’s Vikings and Spike TV’s Deadliest Warrior, led to the formation of the Florida Viking Festival about four years ago.
“I came upon it spiritually. I’m of Scandinavian and Scottish background,” Feagans said. “So, (it came) from the heathenism standpoint, and then Vikings kind of happened on TV and things started getting popular with Vikings. It was a personal vision quest more than anything and it’s just a time period they don’t do festivals for locally.”
Since its founding, the festival has grown exponentially, vice-president Michele Phillips said. Participants come from Sarasota to past Orlando to participate. For many, it has become a second family.
“We have to have a whole intricate storyline for the fair particularly,” Tyler Dunaway said, “but in our community, we’re all brothers and sisters.”
The festival’s next stop is the Bay Area Renaissance Festival where the horde will set up camp and offer patrons an experience like a
living museum exhibit, complete with demonstrations of Viking life and interactive games. The Florida Viking Festival is currently in talks with Medard Park to bring a Scandinavian cultural festival to the park in 2018, complete with all the intricacies of Viking weaponry and ways of life.
“Everyone can learn the wonderful and crazy things we do,” Phillips said.
Dunaway said the camaraderie, and being able to involve his whole family in the fun, bond the troop even more so than the brotherhood he felt during his time in Afghanistan serving with the Marine Corps.
One of the biggest attractions in their exhibit, Faegans said, is jomswikinger, a Viking echolocation game where two blindfolded players place one hand on a wooden chest and take turns asking if they can swing a burlap sack filled with a soft yarn ball at their opponent.
“And I want to show an example of marriage therapy,” Feagans says as Will Fray and his wife, Kasey Bryan, dressed in linen tunics and leather turn shoes of the Viking Age, take their positions on either end of a brown wooden chest. Fray doesn’t know it, but Feagans keeps the blindfold off Bryan. “This is marriage counseling,” he says.
The rest of the family stands in a circle around them, watching Fray flail away at his wife. He doesn’t ask permission to swing before landing his second blow and is penalized, losing a turn. She asks and he answers “yes,” then crouches next to the box. She creeps to him and pauses for a second, then to laughs and applause, she takes an easy swing to land the winning blow.
“This is what we do on Saturdays,” Phillips said with a shrug and a smile.
And with no hesitation, Dunaway adds, “I couldn’t think of a better way to spend it.”
The Florida Viking Festival is currently in talks with Medard Park to bring a Scandinavian cultural festival to the park in 2018, complete with jomswikinger and all the intricacies of Viking weaponry and ways of life.
Our goals is to have a Florida Viking Festival before the end of 2018,” Phillips said. “Everyone can learn the wonderful and crazy things we do.”