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Somewhere along the shore, thousands of Vikings gathered for a grand festival that is held once every decade. A dozen boats filled with hundreds of young children as well as tons of meat (mostly fish) are pushed out to the sea while their parents dance and sing on the beach, hysterically.

This is a sacrificial ritual to feed the sea wyvern that is attracted by the stench of rotting meats. It is said that this creature has the power to control the weather and bestows one strength to defeat any foe effortlessly.

This wyvern is the size of a blue whale and it has a pair of huge wings capable of generating hurricanes and tsunamis. Every decade it brings destruction and misery to locals.

Many visitors are left dumbfounded by this bizarre and cruel practice but are powerless to stop it. I am wondering why would the Vikings go to such a length for something that is clearly wrong and stupid?

What's more astonishing is that they had managed to rule for another couple of centuries.

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    $\begingroup$ Its not like people have not done equally violent and disturbing things in the name of religion and that's in the real world with no evidence for gods. Nw image how we would behave in a placed where the god is question is actually showing up in person to take the sacrifice. $\endgroup$ – John Nov 18 '17 at 5:59
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    $\begingroup$ 1) Because if they don't feed it, it brings destruction & misery every year, instead of just once a decade. 2) Because it bestows its gift of strength on those that feed it, but gets annoyed if it's asked to do this too often. $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Nov 18 '17 at 6:25
  • $\begingroup$ One thing needs to be cleared up, something someone speculated on in a comment to one of tbe amswers....are the children in tne boats alive or already dead? $\endgroup$ – Spencer Nov 19 '17 at 2:22
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Well ...

I can believe in a sea wyvern holding the Viking communities hostage, trading safety for food. That's the sort of thing a sea wyvern can be expected to do. Part of the job description, yes?

The sticking point here is, well, what's up with the children? Why wouldn't the Vikings stock the sacrifice ship with an equivalent weight in sheep or kine? It seems odd that it would be necessary to put children on the boat. After all, from a wyvern's point of view meat's meat, right? I can think of a couple scenarios here:

  • The Vikings are callous bastards; the children are thrall children taken on raids, hence of little value. In this scenario I'd expect other disfavored populations to be on the boat too -- prisoners, oathbreakers, guys who say "amirite" too often.

  • The sea wyvern is intelligent, and cruel. There must be some backstory as to why it hates the Vikings and wants them to suffer. Not to mention it must speak Norse, so that it could make its wishes known.

Update ... after comments let's put in a couple more scenarios

  • Perhaps this is the world after the gods lose Ragnarok. Sort of a Viking "Left Behind" story. The promised new world didn't come. There is nothing left, nothing but despair. The Vikings believe they are doing the children a favor by slaying them, so it is the high-caste children put on the boat.

  • Could be that there's more than one wyvern out there. Could be that all sea travel is prohibitively dangerous. So a burgeoning population must be culled. So the children have competitions to prove their fitness, and the losers get a one-way ticket. Think ancient Sparta combined with the Hunger Games.

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  • $\begingroup$ Yup, the sea wyern don't really crave human flesh but people simply allowing it and worst the children volunteers as if they wants to be part of this event. $\endgroup$ – user6760 Nov 18 '17 at 5:39
  • $\begingroup$ The Op specifically mentions hundreds of young children ... are pushed out to the sea while their **parents** dance and sing on the beach, hysterically (emphasis added) $\endgroup$ – nzaman Nov 18 '17 at 5:43
  • $\begingroup$ @nzaman good catch! I'd forgotten that part. We could therefore speculate that the wyvern is forcing the decision, and their parents are required to "celebrate" by the vicious creature. The hysteria is not a happy mania; the parents are stepping through the motions of joy while weeping, screaming, or hazed out on drugs. $\endgroup$ – akaioi Nov 18 '17 at 5:45
  • $\begingroup$ Or possibly, those are the children who had died the past year, since the wyvern is attracted to rotting meat. Some sort of trying to get them into Valhalla by the back door, since those who die outside combat are sent to Hel $\endgroup$ – nzaman Nov 18 '17 at 5:48
  • $\begingroup$ The sea wyern would never had disturb the Vikings if not for the lure of food, the Vikings do love their children however it pales in comparison to their devotion to the power of the god of calamity. I know it's crazy but that's the kind of world they lives in. $\endgroup$ – user6760 Nov 18 '17 at 5:49
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Something that is clearly wrong and stupid (for an external observer not versed in Viking culture, traditions, and, most importantly, rules of succession) is actually a king trial.

Viking kings do not inherit their thrones and crowns. They have to be chosen by gods to lead their furious warriors. Moreover, the law does not allow kings to grow old and frail. Only a strong king deserves his kingdom.

Centuries ago gods sent the Sea Dragon to stop the bloody succession wars that were devastating the kingdom. From that time every 10 years Vikings gather in great numbers near the seashore. They send their sons and sometimes even daughters into the sea hoping that one of them will be chosen to lead their people.

The legend says, that the Viking King will be able to call to the Sea Dragon in times of need. But it also warns, that only those who touched the dragon and were chosen can do it. An illegitimate unchosen king would only provoke the Dragon's ire and bring destruction to its own people if he tries to plead with the mighty creature.

Vikings send food and many other gifts to the Sea Dragon as a token of gratitude for protection and putting a stop to bloody feuds of the past.

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The answer has nothing to do with the sea wyvern which may or may not be real. The question is why a population would kill its children. This practice is called infanticide

Mabiki: Infanticide and Population Growth in Eastern Japan, 1660-1950 by Fabian Drixler

Proponents of infanticide also articulated their logic in a number of widely shared metaphors. The most famous of these, mabiki or “thinning,” likened infants to rice plants, some of which needed to be uprooted as seedlings to give their siblings the space and light to thrive. The metaphor encapsulates two of the fundamental assumptions of the act it described: that newborn children were not fully formed humans, and as such were disposable; and that to do right by their chosen children, responsible parents might need to destroy some infants at birth.

If you are in an agrarian society like ancient Egypt where more children = more labor = more food, your society will have no tradition of infanticide. But if you are hunter / gatherers, fishermen or otherwise live in a marginal situation as regards food (like far Northern Europe), starvation is a real threat. Human reproductive capacity can easily overwhelm the capacity of a region to sustain the population. If you have no way to practice birth control, then the only way to keep the population in check is to kill some children. Or send your young men out to Viking, or fight, or go somewhere else and not come back.

Which is a hard thing, and so cultural beliefs and rituals come up around the practice to make it more palatable, and make the necessity more obvious for persons who have trouble thinking about the long term and the common good. Or maybe it is luck and evolution: societies that happen into rituals that keep their populations in check do not vanish into famine.

Thus the fish, and the dragon, and the ritual. Maybe the dragon does eat them, or sharks do, or crabs when they drown or freeze. But the reason for the sacrifice has to do with the long term sustainability of this society. The children in these boats do not come back, and they do not swell the population and they do not eat, and the children who are left behind do.

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  • $\begingroup$ And of course, we have the practice of abortion now in most western countries, although that is not technically infanticide. $\endgroup$ – Gryphon Nov 19 '17 at 1:51
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Look at history.

Religion in and of itself is a good enough reason.

The Aztecs preformed human sacrifice. Sacrife slave children to the serpent god perhaps?

Worshipers of Moloch sacrificed their firstborn to the flames. You can find many, many ancient religions that involve human sacrifice. Google ancient religions and human sacrifice.

You can find several of modern religions (referred to as cults) that sacrifice people, though they ate a bit harder to find as these cults are illegal everywhere.

Sacrificing boat loads of children is completely believeable.

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