Meet Erik Weiss, a Viking reenactor and Philly native known as "Erik the Everyday Viking."
• Mind trip: "As long as you have a willing mind to explore new things, to find out different things, to understand the stuff that isn't just in your cup, everybody's a Viking," Weiss said.
When you choose to be called "Erik the Everyday Viking," it's hard to break out of character.
But each year at Christmastime Erik the Everyday Viking — who was born under the name Erik Weiss in the faraway land of Northeast Philadelphia — does just that. He sheds his wool cloak and chain mail for hooves and a horned goat mask and becomes Krampus, a demon from European lore who punishes bad kids at Christmas.
"I am the anti-Santa Claus," Weiss, 47, said. "If the kids were bad, you wouldn't get Santa, you'd get Krampus. And if you were really bad, he'd take you away."
Weiss never imagined he could make a living dressing up as a Viking — or a horned man/goat demon — but over the last five years he's been able to transition from reenacting for fun to reenacting for profit at festivals, concerts, and schools. He even dresses up as Krampus at his local Chick-fil-A's trunk-or-treat every year.
"This is my day job," Weiss said of being a Viking reenactor. "One of the ways we make money in modern-day America is by pillaging. I mean, by appearances."
Before he was a reenactor, Weiss, who has a fiancee and a 14-year-old daughter from a previous relationship, said he was a "jack-of-all trades and a master of none," doing security work, landscaping, and the like around Philadelphia. Today, he lives in Whitehall, near Allentown.
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Four years ago, Weiss and his fiancee auditioned as Vikings — "as a joke" — for the Philadelphia Renaissance Faire and were hired, he said. While he'd already schooled himself on Nordic and Viking culture, Weiss' Viking gear was lacking. He had a sleeveless leather shirt known as a jerkin, an ax, and a shield. That was it.
But over the last few years, Weiss has leveled up — adding much more gear to his costume and bestowing himself with the title of Jarl (or earl) of the Dark Order Clan.
"Now you see me as a jarl because I've earned the status and have everything a jarl would show up into battle with — an armored vest, chain mail shirt, jerkin, and a jarl's helmet," he said.
Weiss, who is of Norse ancestry, wears several charms around his neck including one that was gifted to him by a Slavic Viking and another that looks like an animal's tooth.
"This tooth I found in a Sam's Club parking lot," he said. "I took it as a sign from the gods."
He later learned it was a replica of a wolf's tooth.
While he does use running water, electricity, and electronics, Weiss also tries to live like a Viking a little bit every day through his cooking, woodworking, and attire.
Last week, Weiss set up a table inside the exhibit with some of his Viking gear as groups of teens from Northeast High School wandered by.
"I am pillaging the mind of kids," he said.
He schooled the students on Viking weapons, spices, and lore. When asked if he had a business card, Weiss said: "Vikings etch our business cards in the skulls of our enemies."
Weiss is especially good at engaging kids. He's equally good at scaring them when they're not paying attention by loudly blowing on his horn, which he refers to as his "Viking cell phone."
One myth Weiss wants to dispel is that Vikings were a culture unto themselves. In fact, their culture was Norse and viking was just one job title within that culture.
"Also, Vikings don't wear horns on their helmets — except if you're from Minnesota," he said.
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When asked his opinion about white nationalists who have tried to co-opt Vikings for their own purposes in recent years, Weiss grabbed his ax and pounded it on the floor.
"This is the only time I will break character," he said. "Our symbols are not racist. Our symbols do not inspire hate. They inspire passion, love, and understanding of a culture [that white nationalists] know nothing about."
Weiss said he's never been to Scandinavia but dreams of traveling across the "wooder" one day to see it. Then, he will truly be a Viking.
"What makes a Viking a Viking is someone who decides to go abroad, whether to steal, pillage, burn, or go out for an adventure, because that's the common core — looking for new lands, looking to explore," he said.
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