What is the Midgard Expedition?
The Midgard Expedition crew lead by Bjorn Heyerdahl, is a group of global citizens who are exploring models of intelligent sustainable human habitation and applying it to their own lives, careers and communities. This learning is shared as a global dialogue so that the lessons can be applied by any group or individual. Inspired by the genius in efficiency, design and earth friendly materials of viking longboats, and the courage of the intrepid Vikings who built and sailed them, our research vessel RV ‘Midgard Heron’ will travel the globe with a crew of diverse scientists, explorers and sustainability specialists, studying the real sustainable development to be found.
‘The Book’ and web site link with loads more information about this remarkeable and meaningful project.
The application of these sustainable lessons is happening around the globe in partner academic institutions and the communities that surround them, including Climate Parks in Myanmar Costa Rica, hospitalities and residential estates in the Free State of South Africa, medieval hamlets in Italy, sustainable urban greening and renewal programmes in Dubai, and coastal recovery programmes in the gavel plains of the Sharjah Desert.
Why a Viking Ship?
There’s simply nothing like it! It is the symbol of courage, adventure, craftsmanship, ingenuity, simplicity, symbiosis of man, craft and ocean . . . it stirs the soul like nothing else.
It is also an eloquent metaphor for the dialogue on man’s appropriate place in the biosphere. It fulfils our need for exploration, learning, traveling, creating and working with nature and not against it. It is a zero waste vessel to take us home; home to the best we can be; home to our real relationship with this planet. It is a vessel to help us become more rather than have more.
In this world of surfaces and shallowness, the Viking vessels take you deeper into reality, that is – real contact with, real timber, real living oceans and real people that are immersed in the magic doing… not just taking.
What if all you did in this life was a Viking voyage of adventure and discovery? Would that be a wasted life? This is an expedition of much greater human depth and much more than the discovery of new places. It is a discovery of human potential and finding our real place on this beautiful planet.
Bjørn Heyerdahl is an active explorer, environmentalist, integral systems thinker, biospheric designer, philosopher, writer, internationally renowned speaker, and consultant on humanitarian, environmental regeneration, and development issues, with vast corporate and human development experience. Bjørn is an Explorer’s Club member and the recipient of a Silver Medal from Mikhail Gorbachev at the 10th anniversary Green Cross international at the United Nations in Geneva, for an outstanding contribution to environmental issues and global conscientiousness.
He launched the Midgard Expedition for sustainable development internationally at the Explorers Club in New York in 2003. Bjørn has a close affinity with his Nordic and Viking ancestry, which is traceable back to 812 AD. He has inherited and learned much of his adventurous spirit from his grandfather, Dr. Thor Heyerdahl, who crossed the Pacific Ocean on the balsawood raft “Kon-Tiki” in 1947. In the past years, Bjørn Heyerdahl has featured on international and national television and radio, due to public interest in his unique design and development approach. He has travelled and explored extensively.
Bjørn is married to Alison Heyerdahl and they lived, with their children, on a game farm in the Cradle of Humankind, South Africa, and recently on Waaipoort Permaculture Farm in the Eastern Free State.
Early Influences: Sanoya Caves – then Rhodesia (1973)
‘Looking down into the bottomless azure waters of the Sanoya caves in Zimbabwe, I am reminded of the depth that the biosphere and hydrosphere penetrate into the lithosphere. I can almost hear the dialogue as this crystal water touches the depths of the planet and flows under its skin, mineralising itself and gently absorbing and expanding these subterranean corridors with the quiet determination and patience only water knows. The cool interior of the cave gives me respite from the intense African sun a few meters above. I am too young at this stage to join my father and grandfather as they don their scuba gear and descend through the diffused blue light, fading from sight with regular bubbles breaking the surface signifying their continued presence far below. My Grandfather, Thor Heyerdahl, was out with us in Africa for his sixtieth birthday. I was six years old as I sat there with my feet in the cool, crystal water, willing myself to grow older so that I too could explore the depth and breadth of my biospheric home.
Impatiently I plunged into the water and swam a few meters below the surface, one of my many baptisms in natural water. Looking around at the grey chiseled rocks that faded from sight 20 to 30 meters below me, some primal, yet elevated sense of genetic memory and connection to these ancient waters was awoken. Even though I tried this kind of immersion so many times in a swimming pool or bath, I could never sense life in water as I did now. Only in later years would I come to know the damage done to water’s natural clustering and structure by chlorine infusion, and municipal piping systems, but even in this unconscious phase of awakening, my body and energy levels were barometers that could measure the energy and life in any water.
A year later in South Africa, at seven years of age, I was delivering my first lecture on science and spirituality to an audience of three hundred and fifty people. I had chosen Sir Isaac Newton and his awakening to the Law of Gravity, under his fruit tree, as an introduction to the subject. I remember trying to keep my trembling hand still as I held a sheet of green lined paper with my handwritten notes on it. I wondered even then, as I looked out at the audience at why there was such a need for the separation of the scientific and the mystical; when the one seemed to feed the other in every great mind that I had met or read about.
It always seemed obvious to me that the need for the ‘science of knowing’ had always been driven by the ‘mysticism of being’ and was best acquired through the ‘magic of doing’. Exploration was a natural way to enlist and express all three.’
When I wrote the following pages I lived on a game farm in Africa in the oldest mountains on earth.¹ I have been disinclined to share the story of my life, in the body of my work, because of the narcism this implies, as well as my penchant for isolation, privacy, and stillness. For those who don’t care too much for my personal story, I beg indulgence, as it is integral to the intentions of this saga and thus I have decided to include it. It is a human story of evolution and development; of transcendence and inclusion. My struggles with these impulses are the only truly honest perspectives I can offer on the subject; the rest being interpreted by me, of the experience or knowledge of others, making it a second-hand, interpretive part of the tale. This tale is written in the first person, as it is a first-person account, a first-person inhabiting more than one perspective, however, and thus a sincere, comprehensive, personal account, of a man attempting to discover intelligent life on earth.
In October 2018 I gave myself the ultimate birthday present: the decision to finally build an ocean-going Viking ship of my own.
This was a long-held dream, deeply rooted in my sense of self. My identity has always been Old Norse. Vikings symbolised, for me, by courage, adaptability, ingenuity, and a comparatively early recognition of woman’s real strength and equality. Craftsmanship, attention to detail and aesthetics, juxtaposed with their ferocious reputations as warriors, intrigued me. The Vikings adventurous spirit and living mythology that engages almost every other culture makes them so unique. They had an indomitable individuality but also demonstrated well-orchestrated teamwork, as master mariners, in maritime engineering, in shipbuilding, 500 years ahead of any other nation; and an ability to integrate with other nations, a hunger for learning and exploration of the limits of Midgard.
The runes and linguistics, spoke to me, with intriguingly familiar tones, shapes and textures, as if I had some kind of genetic memory of that time. It awoke energies, endurance, insights and a sense of belonging, in a world otherwise alienating to me. I saw the Viking communities, integrated through their Science of Knowing, the Magic of Doing and Mysticism of Being and I was inspired, to want to express the highest order of their culture and character, into my life, work and community.
We made our tools, where modern equivalents did not exist. We had carving axes handmade by the traditional German Blacksmith, Paul, in the Magaliesburg Mountains, who had made my iconic Viking battle axe years earlier. Specialised wood clamps, to hold the strakes in place for clinking, came out of the boatyard along with a custom made giant wood steamer. We had taken on a huge task and we had to learn and grow to accomplish it.
We learned to bend wood, to clink, to caulk and joinery of an uncommon kind. We made our furnace and manufactured our clicker bolts. A Viking ship is carved and crafted into being, as much an act of artistic expression and intuition, as it is a feat of engineering or carpentry.
Our hands grew harder and our backs stronger and every week the progress showed.
Rounding the Cape of Storms, the southern-most tip of Africa, the Midgard Herron with full sails was an iconic and inspiring sight to behold. Standing on the foredeck, just behind the huge dragonhead, with the sea spray in my face, I was in my element in every sense of that term. The colour is dark blue. The element is water. The smell is fresh, cold saltwater, with a hint of oak and linseed oil in the breeze. The feeling in my soul is beyond description; after a herculean effort over the past 12 months, to bring this dream into reality.
The Vikings were farmers long before they were seafarers. They went out in search of viable soils for farming.
Farming and fertile soils might be the last thing one thinks about when the subject of Vikings comes up. It may seem a surprising motivation for exploration, but it is… and the real treasure is still in the soil.
Our ability for abstract thought, allows us to temporarily abstract conceptually, from life and biology, for academic purposes.
Too much however, can lead to disassociation. Disassociation can lead to mental health issues and the madness we see all around us, in a world of humanity, alienated from its true self.
The Midgard Expedition intends to groom leadership, through encouraging a real relationship with the whole community of life. This requires immersion in the natural world, not an abstraction from it. It requires a mentorship process where all the patterning and interdependence are pointed out, by someone who truly inhabits this space, and identifies with it. It requires an awakening to oneness, not in some airy-fairy way, but through a sincere and conscious apprehension, of the interconnectedness of what you perceive as yourself, and all life.
We hauled the ship, on a custom made trailer, off our farm, with my four-wheel drive, and on back roads, the 800 odd kilometres, down to Durban, crossing the majestic Drakensberg Mountains, dodging traffic police and weigh-bridges; we lost a wheel, surprised people at fuel stations, on a 20-hour ordeal, just to get her down to the ocean.
The fiddler crabs ran over the mangrove roots across the flat white sand and into their holes as we walked, single file, through the mangrove forests at the Umgeni River estuary, north of Durban. Mangroves are in many ways the pioneer species, that holds the key, for our coastal regeneration programmes around the world. These intertidal hosts and anchors of life, provide a classroom second to none. It is on the boundaries of biomes, that the most interesting, interactive life is to be found – where the ocean meets land, where rivers meet the sea. This is the meeting place of so many species. It’s like a border post, bustling with so many travellers in transition. Animals and plants that thrive on daily change and exchange.
I have conducted therapeutic environmental immersions for 1000’s of participants from all walks of life. School groups, corporate executives, government employees, academics and students have all benefited and were deeply moved, to reconnect with their environment, themselves and one another.
I built an environmental education and immersion centre in Mozambique, on Benguerre Island, with a local landowner in 1997, A forty-bed eco-lodge that would host immersions and education in agro-ecological regeneration, as well as cultural, immersions. My life has been about realising an impossible dream – not specifically to have its full expression in my lifetime but contributing to the trajectory of truly intelligent life manifesting on earth at some stage.
Not just intelligence for its own sake. Specific contextualised intelligence. The context being planet earth first, our solar system second, and the cosmos third, in terms of orienting generalisations.
I realised that so many of us, in the exploration community, are driven by our pain and pathologies, to do great things. We climb mountains and cross oceans, on the outside, rather than face our wounding on the inside. We are driven to explore and conquer, to reinforce our sense of self and to have stories of courage, to bolster our egos and validate our lives.
In our purest moments, we explore to witness the majesty of the moment of this natural world, to be immersed in the enormity of the weather and currents, to throw ourselves, into a space of chaos, and the unknown, where surrender is the only way through.
This was the first leg of an ongoing expedition, the Midgard Expedition, this was both a trial and an end in itself. We would be testing the ship, the men and women for the long hall.
For me, as expedition leader, this was an important moment, among the various grooming and sifting processes, in the selection and self-selection, in or out, of the expedition, of crew members, that would be aligned long term, or not. This was not just an expedition to get from one place to another, to achieve what had not been achieved before, or to experience and document unique geographies; this was an exercise in global citizenship, a sincere intention to engage the world in a dialogue on intelligent life on earth and ecological regeneration of all its systems. This was a privileged space to learn and grow. The sincere, mature Vikings were being engaged and elevated in perspective, and the wannabe Viking tourists were identifying themselves to me, in attitude, word and deed.
“We are living in a time where we think everything is technology, everything is pressing buttons, everything is economy, and we are losing sight in reality.”
– Thor Heyerdahl
In 1937, newlyweds Thor and Liv Heyerdahl (My grandfather and grandmother) embarked on a life’s dream: to move to a remote, unspoiled island and live off the land as our distant ancestors had done. Thus began a journey to paradise in the form of Fatu Hiva, a small atoll in the remote South Pacific. Born in Norway in 1914, Thor Heyerdahl first visited Polynesia in 1937 as a Biologist from the University of Oslo. He gained world fame in 1947 sailing the primitive balsa-wood raft “Kon-Tiki” from Peru to Polynesia. He served as an international environmental advisor and was a recipient of the Pahlavi Environmental Prize from the United Nations. My Grandfather and Grandmother found that “Paradise”, as remote as it was, was not untainted by the environmental, social, political and spiritual issues of the world at large. Their journeys together, which at first amounted to leaving the world in search of paradise, later bespoke the realisation that what man needed to do was ‘return nature to the world’. Thor Heyerdahl dedicated a large portion of his life to sharing the lessons he learned from his intimacy with nature, from Fatu- Hiva, Peru, the Norwegian Wilderness, Polynesia and the World’s Oceans. In his private life, he attempted to create a sustainable lifestyle, avoiding anything unnatural, planting his gardens, using methods that enhanced rather than destroyed earth’s resources.
The purpose of the inclusion of this family ‘model’ in the narrative of this work is to allow you to experience the fulfilment of my Grandfather’s vision, that of a true global citizen and that of many of the intentions expressed in the Earth Charter for sustainable living – a model so badly needed to take the rhetoric of sustainability and manifest it in a fully integrated way for modern living. This represents three generations of Heyerdahl’s’ efforts to manifest the intentions and principles found in the Earth Charter.