How Uniform Was the Old Norse religion?

September 8, 2014

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How Uniform Was The Old Norse Religion Brink

How Uniform Was The Old Norse Religion Brink
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Date:August 14, 2014
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 cult practice, which medieval sources refer to as forn siðr (‘ancient custom’) — changed over time. For obvious reasons, it is very difficult to identify a ‘pure’ Old Norse religion, uncorroded by Christianity since Scandinavia did not exist in a cultural vacuum. What we read in the handbooks is based almost entirely on Snorri Sturluson’s representation and interpretation in his Edda of the pre-Christian religion of Iceland, together with the ambiguous mythical and eschatological world we find represented in the Poetic Edda and in the filtered form Saxo Grammaticus presents in his Gesta Danorum. This stance is more or less presented without reflection in early scholarship, but the bias of the foundation is more readily acknowledged in more recent works. In the textual sources we find a considerable pantheon of gods and goddesses — Þórr, Óðinn, Freyr, Baldr, Loki,
Njörðr, Týr, Heimdallr, Ullr, Bragi, Freyja, Frigg, Gefjon, Iðunn, etc — and euhemerized stories of how the gods acted and were characterized as individuals and as a collective.

Originally Published:
J Quinn, K Heslop & T Wills (eds),Learning and Understanding in the Old Norse World: Medieval Texts and Cultures of Northern Europe. Brepols, pp. 105-136.

Stefan Brink:
http://abdn.ac.uk/sdhp/profiles/s.brink