Category: Articles

PANTHEON? WHAT PANTHEON?

This article might be regarded as a follow-up to several other papers and articles that the present author has presented in recent years on the subject of religious change and diversity in the Nordic countries during the Migration Period and Viking Age (see, for example, Gunnell 2007, 2010,2013 and forthcoming a). The papers in question echo in

Continuity: Folklore’s Problem Child?

Abstract: : This essay examines the role of continuity in the study of medieval Northern popular cultural. Among other issues, it questions: the nature of continuity as a concept; the roles “tradition” and “continuity” have played in the development of folklore studies historically (e.g. Finnish Historical-Geographic Method, the “superorganic”) and their value today in relation

An Eye for Odin? Divine Role-Playing in the Age of Sutton Hoo.

This paper presents some new observations concerning the construction of the Sutton Hoo helmet, as a  point of entry to a wider discussion of pre-Christian religious and ideological links across Scandinavia. It will be argued that in certain circumstances and locations, such as the firelit interior of the hall, the wearer of the helmet was seen as both

A winged figure from Uppåkra

Summary The paper presents a new find from the Iron Age settlement at Uppåkra in Scania. Cast in the shape of a winged human figure, it measures 7,4cm in length and 4,5 cm in width. It is made out of copper alloy and gilded on all sides including the back. The object shows a figure

The Winter Goddess: Percht, Holda, And Related Figures

MOST of our knowledge of Germanic myth is derived from the Old Icelandic texts and especially from the Eddas. The Eddic tales centre their attention on the trials and triumphs of the male members of the pantheon and tell us little of the female forces.’ That these wielded power we learn, however, from votive monuments, from the names of

The Imperative Way

This paper addresses a category of archaeological remains or monuments called “field labyrinths”. These monuments are often described as “mysterious” monuments since little is known about when or why they were created, and what their inherent meaning is or was. Although they seem to have been connected to ritual, cult and superstition, older Scandinavian written

Studying Religion-Concepts, Methods and Dilemmas

My paper aims at addressing some of the problems and challenges faced by the study of religion(s) and at presenting briefly the academic context of that study. Originally published: (February, 2009) Confluence. Iterdisciplinary Communications 2007/2009.  Willy Østreng (ed). Centre for Advanced Study. http://www.cas.uio.no/publications_/confluence.php

Saga Motifs on Gotland Picture Stones: The Case of Hildr Högnadóttir

The Gotland Picture Stones have long aroused interest and admiration, not only among tourists as objects of beauty and casual curiosity, but also among scholars who have been led to speculate about what they were originally intended to signify.  one of the methods used to analyze and interpret the images has been to view them

“I Have Long Desired to Cure You of Old Age” Sibling Drama in the Later Heroic Poems of the Edda

The current decade in medieval studies, both literary and historical, has brought what has been characterized as the “affective turn.” It problematizes our understanding of past emotions and feelings in the light of new research into biological and psychological universals, while remaining aware that, within what Barbara Rosenwein has characterized as “emotional communities”, emotion and

Vafþrúðnismál and Grímnismál: Cosmic History, Cosmic Geography

Óðinn is the protagonist of both these poems, which follow Hávamál in the Codex Regius. In Vafþrúðnismál he visits teh giant Vafþrúðnir in disguise to compete with him in a wisdom-contest in which the stake is the loser´s head.  Once he has established (by posing some questions about mythological facts) that Óðinn is a worthy

Goddesses Unknown I: Njǫrun and the Sister-Wife of Njǫrðr

The present article attempts to fill a gap in modern Old Norse scholarship by presenting overviews of two highly mysterious figures, the apparent goddess Njǫrun and the unnamed wife  and  sister  of  the  major  god  Njǫrðr.  In doing so, this article thematically connects with previous discussion of the Vanir found in earlier issues of RMN Newsletter. Originally Published:

The Mania of the Time: Falconry and Bird Brooches at Uppåkra and Beyond

…The bird brooches have been interpreted as ravens, with connotations to Odin’s ravens, Huginn and Muninn.  They could also be understood as representations of birds of prey.  Within the field of archaeology dealing with the finds in question there is caution about attributing the pictorial images to any species.  The question is whether it at

The Religion of the Vikings

What will be outlined here are the religious beliefs and rituals of the Scandinavians in the eighth to the eleventh centuries including those who went for trade, plunder or settlement abroad, that is, the ‘vikings’ properly speaking. Some among them were already Christians but the vast majority of the population still clung to their traditional religion. From a modern

Myth and Ritual in Pre-Christian Scandinavian Landscape

I grew up in the forest region of northern Sweden. As a young boy, an old female relative of mine, an aunt to my father, told me now and then of her encounters with the ‘small people’ when she was herding cattle as a herdess at the seter in the forests, especially of the beautiful

How Uniform Was the Old Norse religion?

One often gets the impression from handbooks on Old Norse culture and religion that the pagan religion that was supposed to have been in existence all over pre-Christian Scandinavia and Iceland was rather homogeneous. Due to the lack of written sources, it becomes difficult to say whether the ‘religion’ — or rather mythology, eschatology, and

Odin, Magic, and a Swedish Trial from 1484

If we are to believe any number of histories, spiritual life in medieval Scandinavia, and especially the conversion to Christianity, is readily summarized: paganism collapsed against Christian conversion efforts in dramatic fashion at a meeting of the Alþing, or when a missionary bore hot iron, or an exiled king had a deep religious experience, or

Skírnir’s Other Journey: The Riddle of Gleipnir

För scírnis-the eddic poem in which Freyr acquires Gerðr as a mate through the help of Skírnir, his skóveinn ´messanger´-plays a central role in our understanding of early nordic culture. So much so, in fact, that a great body of secondary literature has developed around it, encompassing virtually all theoreteical approaches to myth: Solar, ritual,

The Evidence for Maran, The Anglo Saxon ´Nightmare´

This article examines the Old English word mære, the etymon of nightmare, and its variants. I address a number of questions arising from our basic Old English data in order to underpin future efforts to interpret the Old English material. Four main issues are tackled. Firstly, the existence of a strong noun mær  as well as

Elleborus in Anglo-Saxon England, 900–1100: Tunsingwyrt and Wodewistle

This article examines the meanings of the Latin word elleborus in later Anglo-Saxon England. They prove to have varied, from Ælfric’s implicit assertion around 1000 that elleborus had no vernacular Old English counterpart, to the association by the translator of the Old English Herbarium, perhaps around 900, of elleborus albus with tunsingwyrt, which seems to

Madness, Medication — and Self-Induced Hallucination? Elleborus (and Woody Nightshade) in Anglo-Saxon England, 700–900

Studies what Anglo-Saxons in around 700–900 understood by the Latin plant-name elleborus, looking particularly at Aldhelm’s Latin riddle Elleborus, which suggests that the word was understood to denote woody nightshade (Solanum dulcamara). It examines the semantics of Old English words that gloss elleborus in earlier Anglo-Saxon sources: wedeberge, ceasteræsc, ceasterwyrte, and ælfþone. The article finds evidence for the presence of a copy of

The Psychological and Mythic Unity of the God Óðinn

The picture presented to us of the god Óðinn by Snorri Sturluson and Saxo Grammaticus is complex and many-sided to an extreme degree.  He is simultaneously god of magic, poetry, and death with affinities to fertility deities, god of war and father of the gods and man, with a reputation for a highly capricious nature.

The Orcadian Links of Snorra Edda: Norse Literature in Orkney?

Download From her Site This article looks at the evidence for connections between Iceland and Orkney, and the influence this may have had on Snorri’s Edda.   Originally Published: Snorres Edda I Europeisk og Islandsk Kultur. RitstjóriþRedaktor: Jon Gunnar Jørgensen. Reykholt Snorrastofa, Cultural and Medieval Centre. (2009). Judith Jesch: https://nottingham.academia.edu/JudithJesch

Lokrur, Lóðurr and Late Evidence

In the previous issue of RMN Newsletter, Frog had some interesting things to say about Þrymskviða and rímur poetry in late medieval Iceland. I think the idea of identifying common themes and stylistic features in rímur and eddic poems is a promising one and I look forаard to readТng more about Frog‘s research in this

Gods of High Places and Deep Romantic Chasms: Introductory remarks to a study of the landscape situation of Bronze Age sacriicial sites in the Lake Mälaren area

“This paper outlines work in progress with the Bronze Age sacriicial sites of the Lake Mälaren provinces in Sweden. The project’s goals are twofold: a) to understand the landscape rules behind the siting of deposits, and thereby b) to develop predictive model that would allow scholars to ind undisturbed Bronze Age deposits without the aid of farmers, dredgers

Snake brooches of south Scandinavia Ørsnes types L1, L2, J and H3

“This is a study of south Scandinavian snake brooches, i.e. brooches of Mogens Ørsnes’s (1966) types L1 (S-shaped plate brooches), L2 (snake or ribbon-bow shaped plate brooches), J (oval plate brooches) and H3 (epaulet-shaped plate brooches). A database of 270 brooches, most from metal detector sites in south Scandinavia and most studied personally by the

Know Thine Enemy: Scandinavian Identity in the Viking Age

“In speaking of Viking attacks and settlements, the primary historical records often employ national identities like Dane, Northman and Swede to identify their foe. Unsurprisingly such terminology has also often been used by scholars examining these events. Yet such a notion has been questioned, and it is argued that the enemies of the Vikings were

The Convergence of Paganism and Christianity

“In the north of Europe, conversion was not a simple replacement of the old pagan religion with Christian belief; rather, a convergence of two living world views took place, creating for at least several centuries a composite with strong ties to the pagan past.” Originally Published: 31st International Congress on Medieval StudiesKalamazoo, Michigan 1996 Deborah

The Ship in the Field

“The Vanir have been a topic addressed in previous issues of RMN Newsletter. The present article will carry this discussion into the field of archaeology, asking whether there is a connection between the Vanir and the stone ships and boat burials that dot the landscape of the pre-Christian North Germanic cultural sphere.” Originally Published: (2011).