Gods and Myths of Northern Europe is undoubtedly one of the most read academic books within the heathen circles of the United States. It’s near the top of almost any “recommended reading”
list, and it’s widely referenced in many heathen articles and books, despite the fact that it was first published over 40 years ago, in 1964. The question then, is how reliable is it for students to use in
developing their understanding of heathen practice and belief?
The book is a beautifully presented survey of the ancient Germanic Gods, drawn from sagas, poems, ancient accounts, and archeology. This isn’t a simple retelling of the “myths”, taken explicitly
from Snorri’s Prose Edda, or of the Poetic Edda. In fact, the first chapter is dedicated to relaying the stories of the Gods, and the myths from both Edda’s into a concise and comprehendible overview, while the remainder of the book is an examination of their origins, their possible evolution, and the practice of their worshipers. Davidson investigates early accounts of the Germanic warbands and the worship of Tiwas and Wodan and theorizes on their supposed evolution into Odin and Thor. She analyzes the heathen practices of sacrifice over the centuries, of worship in general, and how this all relates to the deities. The strength of this book and the main reason for its popularity is that Davidson has been able to create an overview of the gods as they appear in myth, and how they were worshiped. She manages to bring the two together to form a picture of heathen belief and religion from a serious approach, in a lively and easy to read manner.
While it is generally a good overview of heathen myth and religion as a whole, the book does present a few issues, however that should be regarded. Having been published over 40 years ago, in
1964, it is product of that age in both school of thought and accuracy of information. Much of Davidson’s speculations have since become regarded as obsolete in the field of Nordic Religion. Among
these, concepts of the Vanir as a tribe, or as deities of peace have since been disregarded. So too is the concept of Thor as a skygod, or Odin as a shaman. In general she does a good job of touching on much of the basic facts that outline the myths and beliefs of pre-Christian Northern Europe, but her own theories, comparisons, and conclusions should be regarded with a good deal of suspect. Gods and Myths of Northern Europe is an easy to read and concise overview of Heathen religion but it does have its catches and should be taken with either a grain of salt or a lot of additional research.