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Scandinavian Mythology

Scandinavian Mythology



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Published by Yles

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Published by: Yles on Apr 22, 2008
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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Scandinavian Mythology, pre-Christian religious beliefs of theScandinavian people.The Scandinavian legends and myths about ancient heroes, gods, and thecreation and destruction of the universe developed out of the originalcommon mythology of the Germanic peoples and constitute the primary sourceof knowledge about ancient German mythology. Because Scandinavianmythology was transmitted and altered by medieval Christian historians,the original pagan religious beliefs, attitudes, and practices cannot bedetermined with certainty. Clearly, however, Scandinavian mythologydeveloped slowly, and the relative importance of different gods and heroesvaried at different times and places. Thus, the cult of Odin, chief of thegods, may have spread from western Germany to Scandinavia not long beforethe myths were recorded; minor gods including Ull, the fertility godNjord, and Heimdall may represent older deities who lost strength andpopularity as Odin became more important. Odin, a god of war, was alsoassociated with learning, wisdom, poetry, and magic.Most information about Scandinavian mythology is preserved in the OldNorse literature (Icelandic, Swedish, and Norwegian Literature), in theEddas and later sagas; other material appears in commentaries by theDanish historian Saxo Grammaticus and the German writer Adam of Bremen(flourished about 1075). Fragments of legends are sometimes preserved inold inscriptions and in later folklore.Gods and HeroesBesides Odin, the major deities of Scandinavian mythology were his wife,Frigg, goddess of the home; Thor, god of thunder, who protected humans andthe other gods from the giants and who was especially popular among theScandinavian peasantry; Frey, a god of prosperity; and Freya, sister ofFrey, a fertility goddess. Other, lesser gods were Balder, Hermod, Tyr,Bragi, and Forseti; Idun, Nanna, and Sif were among the goddesses. Theprinciple of evil among the gods was represented by the trickster Loki.Many of these deities do not seem to have had special functions; theymerely appear as characters in legendary tales.Many ancient mythological heroes, some of whom may have been derived fromreal persons, were believed to be descendants of the gods; among them wereSigurd the Dragon-slayer; Helgi Thrice-Born, Harald Wartooth, Hadding,Starkad, and the Valkyries. The Valkyries, a band of warrior-maidens thatincluded Svava and Brunhild, served Odin as choosers of slain warriors,who were taken to reside in Valhalla. There the warriors would spend theirdays fighting and nights feasting until Ragnarok, the day of the finalworld battle, in which the old gods would perish and a new reign of peaceand love would be instituted. Ordinary individuals were received afterdeath by the goddess Hel in a cheerless underground world.Scandinavian mythology included dwarves; elves; and the Norns, whodistributed fates to mortals. The ancient Scandinavians also believed inpersonal spirits, such as the fylgja and the hamingja, which in somerespects resembled the Christian idea of the soul. The gods wereoriginally conceived as a confederation of two formerly warring divinetribes, the Aesir and the Vanir. Odin was originally the leader of theAesir, which consisted of at least 12 gods. Together all the gods lived inAsgard.Creation beliefThe Eddic poem Vlusp (Prophecy of the Seeress) portrays a period of
primeval chaos, followed by the creation of giants and gods and, finally,of humankind. Ginnungagap was the yawning void, Jotunheim the home of thegiants, Niflheim the region of cold, and Muspellsheim the realm of heat.The great world-tree, Yggdrasil, reached through all time and space, butit was perpetually under attack from Nidhogg, the evil serpent. The

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