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Huginn and Muninn

- Nordic Mythology

Group members:
Morten Bjergmose Niels Uni Dam Marie Kær Frederiksen Mona Hede Jarmer Katrine Maigaard Connie Ringgaard Christine Svendsen Mette West-Petersen

Hartmut Haberland

House 3.1.2 - Cluster B - H.I.B. Spring Semester 1996

We would like to thank our supervisor Hartmut Haberland for saving our butt when Dürkheim was gone. A very special thank to our feedback-supervisor, Stephen Turk Christensen, who has been a great help, the inspiration from Beyond, particularly Óðinn, and the story of Vølse for its humorous contribution when things were everything but. We love your food, Psycho Bimbo from Niflheimur. Furthermore, we would like to thank our many fans for being there and Loki for the tricks he played on our computers. Oh what joy!


Huginn and Muninn
Group members:
Morten Bjergmose Niels Uni Dam Marie Kær Frederiksen Mona Hede Jarmer Katrine Maigaard Connie Ringgaard Christine Svendsen Mette West-Petersen

Hartmut Haberland

House 3.1.2 - Cluster B - H.I.B. Spring Semester 1996


Table of Contents
1. Introduction 2. Problem Formulation 3. Presentation of Methodology 4. Presentation of the Æsir Religion
4.1 The Gods 4.1.1 Óðinn 4.1.2 Frígg 4.1.3 Þórr 4.1.4 Loki 4.1.5 Baldr 4.1.6 Týr 4.1.7 Niöðr 4.1.8 Freyr 4.1.9 Freyja 4.1.10 Höðr 4.1.11 Heimdallr 4.1.12 Bragi 4.1.13 Víðarr 4.1.14 Váli 8 9 10 11 11 11 12 12 12 13 13 14 14 15 15 15 16 16 16 16 16 17 17 18 19 21 22 23 23 23 24 27

4.2 The Children of Loki and Angrboða
4.2.1 Fenrisúlfr 4.2.2 Jörmungandr 4.2.3 Hel

4.3 Yggdrasil 4.4 Ginnungagap 4.5 Ragnarökrs 4.6 The New Beginning

5. Source Criticism
5.1 Introduction 5.2 Snorri’s Edda and Codex Regius
5.2.1 Snorri Sturluson’s Edda 5.2.2 Codex Regius


5.3 Source Criticism of the History Part
5.3.1 Archaeology 5.3.2 Adam of Bremen 5.3.3 Ibn Fãdlan 5.3.4 Conclusion 5.3.5 Comparison of Sources

29 30 30 32 34 35 37 38 40 41 41 42 45 48 48 48 49 51 51 51 52 53 54 54 55 56 57 58 59 61 62 66 70 72 73

5.4 Søren Nancke-Krogh
5.4.1 Shamanens Hest 5.4.2 Comments to Shamanens Hest

6. History of the Vikings
6.1 Introduction 6.2 Timetable 6.3 The Appearance of the Viking 6.4 The Structure of Viking Society
6.4.1 Tribes 6.4.2 Thralls 6.4.3 Free Ones 6.4.4 The Aristocracy 6.4.5 Marriage 6.4.6 The Every Day Life of the Viking 6.4.7 The Villages of the Farmers 6.4.8 The Hunters and Fishers

6.5 Fate and Harmingja
6.5.1 Fate 6.5.2 Harmingja 6.5.3 Hugr and Hamskifti

6.6 Rituals
6.6.1 The Year, Day and Night 6.6.2 Sacred Places and Sacrifices 6.6.3 Sacrifices, Burial Customs and Death

6.7 Morals and Ethics 6.8 The Runic Alphabet
6.8.1 Stones and Mythology

6.9 The Ships 6.10 Viking Raids and Settlement

6.10.1 The Goals of Their Journeys 6.10.2 The Raids Towards the West 6.10.3 The Raids Towards the East 6.10.4 Across the Atlantic

76 78 80 81 82 87 89 89 89 90 91 91 91 91 92 94 95 96 98 100 100 102 102 102 103 104 105 106 106 107 108 110 110 110 112

6.11 Introduction of Christianity 6.12 Conclusion

7. A Philosophical Look upon Myths
7.1 Introduction 7.2 Definition of Religion 7.2.1 Myths
7.2.2 Mythology 7.2.3 Ethics 7.2.4 Spiritual Society 7.2.5 Rites 7.2.6 Discussion

7.3 Sigmund Freud
7.3.1 Animism 7.3.2 Myths 7.3.3 Freud and the Æsir Religion 7.3.4 Comments on Freud

7.4 Carl Gustav Jung
7.4.1 The Father 7.4.2 The Mother 7.4.3 The Hero 7.4.4 The Shadow 7.4.5 Jung and the Æsir Religion 7.4.6 Comments on Jung

7.5 Joseph Campbell
7.5.1 The Myth 7.5.2 Metaphors 7.5.3 Campbell and the Æsir Religion 7.5.4 Comments on Campbell

7.6 Émile Dürkheim
7.6.1 The Social Foundations of Religion 7.6.2 Comments on Dürkheim


7.7 Mircea Eliade
7.7.1 Sacred Objects and Places 7.7.2 Sacred Actions 7.7.3 Construction Rites 7.7.4 The Symbolism of the Centre 7.7.5 Sacred and Profane Time 7.7.6 The Year 7.7.7 Myths 7.7.8 Eliade and the Æsir Religion 7.7.9 Comments on Eliade

113 114 115 115 116 116 117 117 118 120 120 122 124 126 127 128 128 129 130 131

7.8 Discussion of the Theories 7.9 The Æsir Religion

8. Conclusion 9. Process of Group Work 10. Danish Summary of the Report 11. List of Mythology Names and Concepts
11.1 Names and Concepts 11.2 Places 11.3 Others

12. Bibliography


1. Introduction
The basic motivation for working with this topic is a general interest in our historical and cultural background. Furthermore, we had all learned about the Nordic Gods and the religion during our childhood and adolescence and found the narratives and the figures within these intriguing and amusing. A general mental drive in society towards something spiritual may also have contributed to our interest in researching the metaphysical. We have tried to combine these two interests in our project by using a specific theoretical framework. We think it could be interesting to see if we through myths could get an idea of the Viking society and how their relation was to the Æsir Religion. The obvious way to do so would be to look into the earliest written sources of that era, which can give us an idea what the Æsir Religion was like. Combining that with historical information we believe we can create a reliable picture of the Vikings. Furthermore, we would find it very interesting if we could shed light on the mystery; did the Vikings believe in the Æsir Religion or did they simply use the myths as good stories? When quoting we will use the original text when we can find it. In the cases where we have not been able to find the original version we will use a translation of the text we have been working with. Every quote will be followed by a translation into English to ease the understanding. We have chosen to include a list of gods and concepts, containing both the original, the English and the Danish version of the names. In the paper we use the original Old Nordic names and concepts to stay objective, meaning that we do not want to say whether the Icelandic, Norwegian or Danish etc. version of the names is better than the other. Furthermore we do not believe that it would be suitable for this paper to translate names.


Then why are the names translated in ‘List of Names and Concepts in Old Nordic’? The reason for the English version is that the rest of the paper is in English and we assume that non-Danish readers more easily would understand and relate to an English version. The Danish version is included as we realise that the majority of the readers of this paper will be able to read Danish. All quotes in Old Nordic are from the Codex Regius, ‘Jónsson, Finnur 1932’. In the Old Nordic names and quotes three letters will appear, þ, ð and o. To avoid any frustrations þ is pronounced [θ], ð is pronounced [ð] and o is pronounced [o]. We have not been able to locate the character o in any font we have, so we will be using ö instead.

2. Problem formulation
Does the image we get from the history of the Vikings fit with what we know from the myths of the Æsir Religion? We will investigate this by looking at written material from that era and use both The Edda and the Codex Regius along with other historical sources, such as relics and foreign accounts, as points of departure for our examination. Thereby we shall try to create an image of the Vikings as detailed as possible. We shall work with the mythology within the framework of different theories. These theories will be compared and criticised. Eventually we will try to make our own theory about the Viking belief.


3. Presentation of Methodology
Approaching our area, we first of all looked for background knowledge about the era of the Vikings. We wanted to get an impression of how life was for the Viking in general. Doing so, we found that we needed to define what a Viking was and where the Vikings lived. The group was divided into three subgroups one dealing with philosophy and sociology of religion another with the Æsir Religion and the third with the history of the Vikings. In each subgroup we chose different areas according to personal interest. Having done so more or less, we looked into the works of different theorists whom we thought would be useful in dissecting the minds of the Vikings. We applied their theories about myth, creation and religion on Æsir Religion, thus illuminating the Viking. We had a long and exhausting discussion about the theorists taking their historical context into consideration. We needed this discussion to reveal the true nature of the myth. Source criticism was necessary to provide ourselves, and the readers, with information on possible factors influencing the sources in order to remain critical.


4. Presentation of the Æsir Religion
4.1 The Gods
4.1.1 Óðinn
Óðinn is the Alföðr1 of the Æsir2. His main purpose of life is to prevent the inevitable faith of humankind and gods at Ragnarökrs3. This makes him superior to the usual perceptions of good and evil, ‘the goal justifies the mean’. For instance, travelling around the world he finds warriors for his army for the upcoming battle of Ragnarökrs, creating havoc and bloodshed on his way. Some believe that Óðinn was primarily worshipped by the higher classes in society. Óðinn only has one eye, the other he mortgaged to Mímis a jötna4 to get a drink from the well of wisdom, which Mímis is the keeper of. There are different perceptions of how Óðinn looks. Some sources claim that he is very handsome5, whereas other claim that he is utterly ugly6. We choose to believe that he simply has character. Óðinn has two ravens Huginn and Muninn, which means thought and memory. They fly out every morning to return home at breakfast time with information about all they have seen. Additionally he has two wolves Geri and Freki, both names mean greed, whose main tasks are to go to the battlefields and collect the souls of the fallen men and bringing them to Valhöll7 Óðinn is married to Frígg.

4.1.2 Frígg

Alföðr is the father of all. Æsir are the Nordic gods, live in Ásgarðr. 3 Ragnarökrs is the apocalypse of gods and mankind. 4 Jötna is a giant, they live in Jötunheimum which is next to Ásgarðr. 5 Hveberg, Harald 1990 pg.17. 6 Mikkelsen, Jonhard 1993 pg.73. 7 Valhöll is the place where men who have died in battle go to feast until the final battle at Ragnarökrs.
1 2


Frígg is the wife of Óðinn and there is very limited information about how she was worshipped8 by the Vikings, but it appears that she has access to much of the same knowledge as Óðinn. Some believe that she originally was worshipped as Mother Earth by Teutons9.

4.1.3 Þórr
Þórr is the son of Óðinn and the Earth, he is the strongest of the Æsir. He has three objects: Miöllnir10, Megingjord11 and a pair of Iron Gloves. These items together with his raw power make Þórr a very efficient war god. He is known to have quite a temper and devotes most of his life to the fight against the jötun12 to defend both gods and humans. In Gylfaginning13 we are told the story of Útgarða-Loki14, a jötna who possesses the power of illusions and uses his power to deceive Þórr, as he is too afraid to face him in real battle. This is an example of the respect the jötun have for Þórr. When Þórr rides in his wagon across the sky the world trembles, creating a roaring sound known to humankind as thunder. Þórr is married to Sif.

4.1.4 Loki
Loki is son of a jötna, but has become Óðinn’s foster brother and lives among the Æsir. He is very handsome but neither dark nor fair. Loki has lived with the Æsir for a long time but has never fully become one of them.

Mikkelsen, Jonhard 1993 pg. 74. Ibid. pg. 74. 10 Miöllnir is a hammer which always returns to the owner, means the crusher (Hveberg, Harald 1990 pg.19). 11 Megingjord is a strength giving belt. 12 Plural of jötna. 13 Gylfaginning (Larsen, Uffe Hartvig 1989 pg.34-80) is a text from Snorri’s Edda, see chapter 5.2.1 Snorri Sturluson’s Edda. The title Gylfaginning means the infatuation of Gylfi (an old Nordic king). 14 The story of Útgarða-Loki is told in Gylfaginning stanza 44-47(Larsen, Uffe Hartvig 1989 pg.61-69).
8 9


He has the power to take any shape and gender he wishes, a quality which the Æsir hold precious. He is often used as a spy and sent to Jötunheimum in another shape. Loki´s favourite occupation is to play pranks on the gods. Some of these tricks can be very malicious and show a very dark side of him. The most malicious of these pranks is when he tricked Höðr into killing Baldr. Loki and Angrboða, a gýgr15 from Jötunheimum have three children: The Fenrisúlfr, the Jörmungandr or Miðgarðsorm and Hel16.

4.1.5 Baldr
Baldr is the son of Óðinn and Frígg. He is the fairest of the Æsir. Snorri Sturluson17 says about Baldr: ‘Another son of Óðinn’s is called Baldr, and there is good to be told of him. He is the best of them and everyone sings his praises. He is so fair of face and bright that a splendour radiates from him, and there is one flower so white that is likened to Baldr’s brow; it is the whitest of all flowers. From that you can tell how beautiful his body is, and how bright his hair. He is the wisest of the gods, and the sweetest-spoken, and the most merciful, but it is a characteristic of his that once he has pronounced a judgement it can never be altered.’18. According to Snorri’s Edda Baldr is married to Nanna Nepsdóttir. Loki gets Baldr killed and this will be the beginning of Ragnarökrs.

4.1.6 Týr
According to Snorri Sturluson Týr is the son of Óðinn and Frígg. He is very brave and he has power to give victory, as he is the war god. Some sources claim that Týr is the first Indo-European Alföðr and the God of the sky. His name is related to the Latin deus, the Greek Zeus, the German Tiwa and the Anglo-Saxon Tiw19.
15 16 17 18 19

A gýgr is a female jötna. See chapter 4.2 The Children of Loki and Angrboða See chapter 5.2.1 Snorri Sturluson’s Edda Young, Jean 1954 pg.51. Mikkelsen, Jonhard 1993 pg. 58. 13

In the Viking-age he had lost his status as Alföðr, but still there were signs of his lost might, e.g. gods were in plural referred to as Tívar by poets and even Óðinn was sometimes called Hanga-Týr, the Lord of the gallows20. Týr is missing the lower part of his right arm as the Fenrisúlfr bit if off when the Æsir chained it. Place names show that Týr was mostly worshipped in Denmark.

4.1.7 Niöðr
Niöðr was raised in Vanirheimum21 and was given to the Æsir as a hostage. According to Snorri Sturluson Niöðr is the master of wind, sea and fire. One should pray to him for good fortune and luck on the sea. He is extremely wealthy and can grant money and land to those who ask for it22. Some believe that he originates from Mother Earth or Nerthus23, but has changed gender in the Æsir Religion. He used to be the God of fertility, but later lost this status to his son Freyr24. Niöðr is married to Skaði, a jötna.

4.1.8 Freyr
Freyr is the son of Niöðr and the twin brother to Freyja. He rules over rain and sunshine, prosperity and happiness among humankind. He is mild and very well-liked and worshipped as the fertility God. In Sweden he was the most worshipped of all Gods and father of their kings. Freyr is married to Gerð, a jötna.
Ibid. pg. 58. Vanirheimum is the home of the Vanir. Gods of fertility and hunting which were fighting the Æsir. 22 Mikkelsen, Jonhard 1993 pg.92. 23 Nerthus is the name the Teutons used for Mother Earth. 24 Mikkelsen, Jonhard 1993 pg.91.
20 21


4.1.9 Freyja
Freyja is the daughter of Niöðr and Freyr’s twin sister. She is very beautiful and is the Goddess of love. She has the right to half of the fallen warriors, and is allowed to choose which ones.

4.1.10 Höðr
Höðr is a son of Óðinn and Frígg but as he is blind he has no godly duties, Baldr although uses him as an adviser in difficult matters25. Höðr is the one Loki tricks into killing Baldr with a mistletoe arrow.

4.1.11 Heimdallr
Heimdallr is the son of nine sisters, all virgins. Some sources say that he is also the son of Óðinn26. He is the watchman of the Gods and he sits by Bifröst27 to guard against the jötun. He has a lure called Gjallarhorni which can be heard all over the world. He can see a hundred miles away and can hear the wool grow on a sheep. In the poem Völuspá humankind is referred to as mögu Heimdallar, the sons of Heimdallr. This might be a reference to the poem Rígsþula, where Heimdallr disguises himself as a man called Rígr and has sexual intercourse with different women and becomes the father of the class divided society.

4.1.12 Bragi
Bragi is a son of Óðinn’s. He is the God of poets and is known to be a very good bard. He has great wisdom. Bragi is married to Idun.

25 26

Sørensen, Villy 1984 pg. 12. Hveberg, Harald 1990 pg.22.


4.1.13 Víðarr
Víðarr is the son of Óðinn and a gýgr. He is known to be the silent God. Except for Þórr he is the strongest of the Gods. At Ragnarökrs he breaks the jaw of the Fenrisúlfr with his thick shoe and finally avenges Óðinn by killing it.

4.1.14 Váli
Váli is the son of Óðinn. He is a brave warrior and a great marksman. One night old he revenges the death of Baldr by killing Höðr. He does this before having the chance to get washed or combed.

4.2 The Children of Loki and Angrboða
Loki has three children, Fenrisúlfr, Jörmungandr and Hel, with a jötna called Angrboða. These children were all born in Jötunheimum, but were brought to Ásgarðr on Óðinn’s orders. He saw these as a threat to the Æsir and wanted them on his side.

4.2.1 Fenrisúlfr
The Fenrisúlfr28 was just a puppy when it first came to Ásgarðr but as time progressed it grew enormously large. Everyone feared it except Týr who fed it every day. The Æsir decided to chain it as they now saw it as an even larger threat. They told it that they wanted to challenge its strength by chaining it. The first time it broke the chain, the same happened the second time, but the third time the Gods were well prepared; they asked some dverga29 to create a magical chain. They made a chain from six items; a cats step, the beard of a woman, the roots of a mountain, the sinew of a bear, the spit from a bird and the breath of a fish. They called the chain Gleipnir. The Æsir brought the Fenrisúlfr to an island called Lyngvi together with the new chain which looked like a silk-ribbon. The Æsir promised the Fenrisúlfr its freedom even if it could not brake the chain. It did not believe them and demanded some security; one of the Gods were to put his hand in its mouth and if they did not keep
27 28

Bifröst is a rainbow bridge from Miðgarð to Ásgarðr. Fenrisúlfr is a giant wolf.


their promise, it would bite off the hand. The only one who was brave enough to obey this demand was Týr. The chain was put around its neck but even though the Fenrisúlfr used all its strength, it could not escape the power of Gleipnir. All the Gods were laughing. Except from Týr. He lost his hand. At Ragnarökrs the Fenrisúlfr will finally brake free of the chain and kill Óðinn in battle.

4.2.2 Jörmungandr
Jörmungandr is also known as the Miðgarðsorm30, when it was brought to Óðinn he threw it into the sea. It grew very big and now lies in the middle of the sea around the Earth, biting its own tail. It is a Mortal enemy of Þórr’s.

4.2.3 Hel
Óðinn sent Hel31 to Niflheimur32 to rule the nine worlds there. She receives the people who have died from illnesses or old age. She is half black and half white and is therefore very easily recognised. She is portrayed as a very horrifying woman. Her knife is called Sulltr and her table is called Hungr

4.3 Yggdrasil
Yggdrasil is the world tree that holds together the three parts of the world with its roots. One is in Niflheimur, the second in Útgarð and the third in Ásgarðr. This tree is the place where the Æsir meet for their daily gatherings. Under the root in Niflheimur is a well, Hvergelmi. Here is a serpent called Níðhöggr, gnawing at the root, together with thousands of other serpents.

29 30 31 32 33

Dverga means dwarfs. Miðgarðsorm is a serpent. Hel is a woman. The Kingdom of Death of the Æsir Religion. Sulltr means starvation and Hungr means hunger. 17

Under the root in Útgarð is a well called Mímisbrunnr. This well contains all wisdom and is guarded by Mímis who has great wisdom as he drinks from the well every day. Under the root in Ásgarðr, there is also a well, Urðarbrunn. It is by this well the Æsir hold their meetings and where the three nornir34, Urðr, Verðandi and Skuld35 fetch water for Yggdrasil to keep it from dehydrating. The water in this well is so sacred, that everything that falls into it turns white. Two swans swim in the well. In the top of the tree there is an eagle, and between the eyes sits a hawk, Veðrfölnir. The eagle and Níðhöggr utterly dislike each other, therefore the squirrel Ratatoskr runs from one to the other exchanging unpleasant messages. Four deer Dáinn, Dvalinn, Duneyrr and Duraþrór run about eating the buds and leaves off Yggdrasil. At Ragnarökrs Yggdrasil shivers and moans, but the faith of the world tree is uncertain as no sources speak of the matter.

4.4 Ginnungagap
Àr vas alda þars Ymir byggði, vasa sandr né sær, né svalar unnir; jörð fansk æva né upphiminn; gap as ginnunga, en gras hvergi. In the beginning there was neither sand nor sea nor cooling billows there was no earth nor heaven above - Ginnungagap was thereand nowhere was there grass Völuspá stanza three In the beginning there was Ginnungagap, a big gap in the great nothing. North of Ginnungagap Niflheimur emerged, nine cold, icy worlds. South of Ginnungagap
Nornir means the Fates. They rule the destinies of man and Gods. They are present at every birth and decides the age of the child.


Muspellheimur emerged. This was a hot and steamy world, guarded by Surt, a jötna, who will burn up the whole world at Ragnarökrs. The poisonous streams of Niflheimur froze as they came farther from their source and rime emerged. One layer of rime formed upon the other all the way to Ginnungagap. The northern half of Ginnungagap was filled with ice and rime containing wind and sleet. The southern half of Ginnungagap cleared from the sparks from Muspellheimur. As heat met the cold, the rime melted and the power of the heat gave these drops life and Ymir, a jötna, came into being. As the rime continued to drop a cow, Eyðhumbla, emerged. She licked on a salty stone, and a mans hair appeared. The next day his head was visible, and by the third day a man named Buri came into existence. He had a son, Bor. Bor had three sons, Óðinn, Vili and Véi with a woman known by the name Bestla, daughter of the jötna Baaltorn. Ymir lived of Eyðhumblas milk. He gave life to a man and a woman, as they grew from his sweaty armpits, while he was sleeping and ‘one of his feet begot a son with the other. From them are descended the jötun’36. The sons of Bor killed Ymir and from him they created the world. When Ymir fell all the jötun except Bergelmir and his family drowned in the blood. From this point the jötun and the Æsir became hereditary enemies. From the flesh Óðinn, Vili and Véi created the earth, from the bones the mountains, from his teeth the stones and gravel, and from the blood seas and oceans. From the blood flowing of the wounds they created an ocean which surrounded the entire world From Ymirs skull they created the sky. In order to keep the sky in place they had four dverga called Austi, Vesti, Nordri and Sudri37 hold it down. The sparkles from Muspellheimur they placed on the sky as stars.

35 36

Urð, Verðandi and Skuld means past, present and future. Hveberg, Harald 1990 pg.10.


Òðinn and his brothers were walking by the ocean one day and found two trees. They took these and made them into people, a man and a woman. They named them Askr and Embla. After creating the first human beings the sons of Bor divided the earth into three parts, Miðgarð38, Jötunheimur39 and Ásgarðr40. They made a bridge from Miðgarð to Ásgarðr which is called Bifröst41. This is guarded by Heimdallr. Miðgarð was inhabited by Askr and Embla and their offspring, which is the human race. Jötunheimum was given to Bergelmir and his family, the jötun. The third part of the world Asgarð was made the home of Óðinn and his offspring the Æsir. After this point mythology does not speak more of Vili and Véi. A man from Miðgarð had two children, a boy and a girl. They were so fair-looking, he decided to call them Sól and Máni42. The Æsir however became offended that a man would choose such names for his children. They punished the man by taking the children away from him. Sól was to drive the cart that pulled the sun, and Máni was to drive the cart that pulled the moon. The jötun heard of this and found it unreasonable that the Æsir would make such a decision. Therefore two jötun in wolf shape were sent up in the sky to chase the two children, according to Snorri Sturluson. In Codex Regius the two wolves are children of the Fenrisúlfr. That is why the sun and the moon constantly rotate. At Ragnarökrs the wolves will finally catch up with the two children and kill them.

4.5 Ragnarökrs
Ragnarökrs is the final battle of the world as we know it. There will be signs of the coming apocalypse.

37 38 39 40 41 42

East, west, north and south. Miðgarð is where the humans live. Jötunheimum is where the jötun live. Ásgarðr is where the Æsir live. Bifröst is the rainbow. Sól means sun and Máni means moon. 20

Three roosters will crow, a red in Miðgarð, a golden in Ásgarðr and a black in Niflheimur. Three years of battle and evil will follow. Then the Fimbulvetr43 will roam; three winters of snow, ice and cold with no warmth or separating summers. The wolves will devour Sól and Máni, the stars will disappear. The whole world will start to tremble. At this time the Fenrisúlfr breaks free from its chains and the Miðgarðsorm will squirm in utter fury. Naglfar44 comes from the North. According to Völuspá it is steered by Loki, while Snorri Sturluson claims that it will be Hrymr, a jötna, who steers it. At this time Heimdallr will get up and blow the Gjallarhorni to wake the Æsir. Yggdrasil will start to fade and the Æsir will prepare for battle. As battle rages on, Þórr slaughters the Miðgarðsorm but afterwards dies from his wounds. Óðinn is digested by the Fenrisúlfr and avenged by Viðar who wrenches its jaws apart and kills it. Surt burns up the world which sinks into the sea and that is the end of the world as we know it.

4.6 The New Beginning
A new world will arise from the sea, green and wonderful. According to the Vafþrúðnismöl, Viðar and Váli will survive Ragnarökrs and the two sons of Þórr Móði and Magni will come to them, and Baldr and Höðr will come back from Niflheimur. But in Völuspá there is no mentioning of Víðarr and Váli. A new sun is born who is the daughter of the old sun. And two humans who have hidden in a forest start to breed and their children will inhabit the whole world.

43 44

Fimbulvetr means the Fimbul winter. Naglfar is a ship made of nails from the dead in Hel. 21


5. Source Criticism
5.1 Introduction
Why make source criticism of a text? It is evident that historical texts, as well as others, change over time and are an easy prey to misinterpretation. The narrators are a product of their time and therefore influenced by it and their religious background, for example ibn Fãdlan who found the Vikings extremely unhygienic because he, as a Moslem, had other criteria for hygiene. We, as readers, are just as influenced by our respective backgrounds. An example from present time is Søren Nancke-Krogh who chooses his own facts and interprets them accordingly. In this chapter we will shortly present our primary sources in order to remain critical.

5.2 Snorri’s Edda and Codex Regius
The two main sources of what we know about the Æsir Religion today are the Edda and the Codex Regius. The latter was written down around the year 1270 AD by an anonymous scribe, but it is believed to be a copy of an older document probably from around 1200 AD. Snorri’s Edda is written by the Christian Icelandic politician Snorri Sturluson approx. in the year 1220 AD. So we know Snorri’s Edda to be the youngest Edda, as Snorri refers to the Codex Regius several times. The content of the religion, as presented in both the Edda and Codex Regius, is hard to date as it shows traits of earlier time. These traits can be seen in the heroic poems of Codex Regius which portray events that might go as far back as to The Period of The Great Migrations in 1500 BC. Oral tradition has preserved the fundamental features of the narratives. These features have later taken on a special value because of their poetic patina.


The poems about the gods may be even older and reach as far back as to the Bronze Age, 1600 BC. to 500 BC. Furthermore, we cannot exclude the possibility of some elements going even further back in time. The ∆sir Religion, as seen in both texts, speaks of two kinds of gods; the Æsir and the Vanir. These were once at war with each other, a war that ended with a compromise and a truce in which the two parties exchanged hostages. Such agreements can be recognised from the ‘real world’ where they often follow a clash between two cultures with different religions that after a long time of trouble are forced to live together. The battle and the reconciliation between the Æsir and the Vanir could be an echo of the clash between the immigrant Indo-Europeans who came to the Nordic territories and the aboriginals. The Vanir may have been the gods of the aboriginals. These were fertility gods such as Freyr, Freya and Niörðr, whereas the Æsir may have been the gods of the Indo-Europeans. There is at least one god, Týr, who can be traced to Indo-European culture. However, we cannot say whether the myths, as presented in the narratives, were introduced by the immigrants. Some narratives may have developed from The Period of The Great Migration and others might have emerged later or even before. In this chapter we shall present the background of the Edda and the Codex Regius and try to judge how reliable they are as historical texts. We shall start off with Snorri’s Edda as this text was rediscovered before Codex Regius.

5.2.1 Snorri Sturluson’s Edda
Snorri Sturluson was born in 1179 in Iceland. When he was three years old he was placed in the house of the great chief Jon Loptsson in Odde. In 1199 he married Herdis the daughter of a rich priest and chief called Berse á Borg. A couple of years later Snorri ,however, moved into a farm called Reykjholt without his wife. In 1214 Snorri was appointed ‘lógsigumaður’45 In the year 1215 Snorri went to Norway where he was appointed vassal by the 14 year old Norwegian King Haakon as an exchange for promising to work for the


Lógsigumaður is chairman of the Icelandic central court, the Altingi. 24

unification of Norway and Iceland. By making this promise Snorri prevented a Norwegian raid on Iceland. Five years after arriving in Norway Snorri returned to Iceland. In Iceland his promise to the King had made him very unpopular but Snorri did nothing to keep his promise to Haakon. King Haakon had at this point allied himself with other chiefs in Iceland, and these became Snorri’s mortal enemies, finally resulting in Snorri having to flee and thus returning to Norway. Back in Norway he stayed with the Earl Skule. In 1240 the Earl fell in battle against King Haakon and Snorri had to flee once again. He returned to his farm in Iceland only to be killed by his enemies, King Haakon and the Icelandic chiefs, on the 22 September 1241. Around the time of his first return to Iceland in 1220 Snorri wrote his Edda. The content of the Edda is mainly about the Æsir Religion, the main text is Gylfaginning which is Snorri’s presentation of the world of the Æsir Religion. Another large part is ‘Poetic Diction’46, a presentation of the language of the skaldic poetry of that time which often was based on myths about the Æsir. Seeing this book as the Æsir Religion’s Bible would be a serious mistake. Snorri, being a Christian, does not try to hide the fact that he sees the Æsir Religion as pure fiction. He even makes an effort to explain how the Æsir, who according to him, in reality were Asians who deliberately deceived the Nordic king Gylfi into believing that they were gods. In his preface he explains how God created the world and how humankind’s sin became more and more widespread until humankind even forgot the name of God. Instead they started to notice how the earth somehow seemed to be alive and therefore they gave it a name. Furthermore, they asked the elderly people how the earth and the sun had been centuries ago and got the answer that these had not changed, but the movement of some of the other ‘heavenly beings’ had changed. Thus they reasoned that there had to be a heavenly master who decided the movement of these beings. This master was most likely the one who mastered all the other things on earth as well as in the sky.


In order to remember all of these things and to make them easier to hand on, they gave all the different things names. This belief has changed over time as the people split up and the languages developed in different directions. He explains how the Africans built the tower of Babel and how Gods anger struck them and made them unable to understand each other. He also claims that they got so confused that they e.g. called the God Priamus47 Óðinn. He goes on to tell the story of the world, displaying great knowledge of Greek mythology, the history of the world, linguistics, Christianity and the Æsir Religion. He also shows the ability of reasoning and uses this ability extensively in his attempt to explain the existence of both Greek and Nordic Mythology from a Christian point of view. This shows that Snorri was a very intellectual and literate person but it also makes the reader question his objectivity. We also have to be aware that Snorri probably did not believe in the myths himself. This does not devalue his retelling as much as it might have done if he believed in them. We do not know when he was using features from the original religion and when he was applying knowledge from other cultures and religions, a thing that was very common for historians of that time. This was actually seen as a very positive quality as it showed that the historian was a literate person. In the final section of the book Snorri wrote a message to the readers, who he sees as the young poets of Iceland. He explains that this book is meant to be a presentation of the old poetry including the language and the symbols used. He asks them to bear in mind that the contents of the poems are fiction, as there is only one God, the Christian God. Even though these statements and explanations by Snorri on the one hand make it hard to trust him as a reliable source to the Æsir Religion, he on the other hand provides us with a lot of knowledge about his own opinions. Reading it with this in mind we thus find a somewhat true reflection of the real religion as this book is supposed to be a presentation of old poetry and not only a presentation of Snorri’s opinions.
46 47

We have not been able to find the original title He was the king of Troy, father of Paris of Greek Mythology. 26

If we look at the main text of the Edda ‘Gylfaginning’, this text is the story of the Nordic King Gylfi who meets the Æsir, a people from Asia with roots in Troy. They deceive him by telling many different stories about the different gods, explaining how all things in the world have come into being. Many places Snorri quotes the ‘Völuspá’ from the Codex Regius and if we look at the content we can furthermore see some connections with the ‘Vafþrúðnismöl’. Actually both texts do concern themselves mostly about the same questions. This could be another indication of Snorri knowing the Codex Regius when he wrote his book. Yet another indication is the name that King Gylfi uses when he goes to see the Æsir. He calls himself ‘Gangleri’ which is one of Óðinn’s names in the Codex Regius. To a certain extent in ‘Gylfaginning’ King Gylfi strangely enough plays the role that Óðinn has in the ‘Vafþrúðnismöl’. These are just some of the parts where Snorri’s own reasoning and interpretations are most apparent.

5.2.2 Codex Regius
In 1643, when Iceland was still subject to the Danish king, an Icelandic Bishop found an old parchment which contained a collection of poems about the myths of the Æsir Religion and about heroes, some of which had been quoted in Snorri’s Edda. People thought they had found Sæmundr’s48 work. The Bishop gave the work to the Danish king Frederik III and since then it has been called Codex Regius, the Royal Book. The language and the handwriting used shows that the Codex Regius is written around the year 1270 which is more than a century after Sæmundr’s death. According to some of our sources49 a closer analysis of the poems shows that they are composed over a time span of 400 years. Another source50 claims that the poems, even though they are in Icelandic, probably originate from the 10th century’s Norway and have been put down in writing on Iceland in the beginning of the 13th century. Therefore Sæmundr cannot be the author and instead Codex Regius is probably a collection in which an Icelandic person with interest in literature and mythology had gathered old poetry and manuscripts. This book is divided in two parts, one is about the Gods and the other about the heroes.
48 49 50

Sæmundr enn Froði 1056-1133 was an intellectual priest. Jónsson, Finnur 1932. Fonsmark, Henning 1975 pg.204. 27

We do not know who originally composed the poems as they are anonymous. From other texts we know several names of narrators who wrote the skaldic poetry. These were official persons as they were writing for kings and chiefs. Some sources claim that some of these writers had an unofficial activity which they may have found amusing, but as it was not a part of their job they did not put their names on the work. The reliability of Codex Regius is difficult to be sure of as we have no exact evidence of the time in which it was written. We know that the stories come from an oral tradition, in which the narratives change over time, and are written down later. Looking at the narratives we discern that the Codex Regius most likely have been corrupted by Christianity. One example that instantly springs to mind is: ‘Þá kømr hinn ríki at regindómi öflugr ofan sá’s öllu ræðr.’ Then comes the great one to his kingdom from high above rules for ever more.’ Völuspá stanza 65 This stanza could be interpreted as the Christian monotheism replacing the Æsir polytheism. Ríki could be the Christian God or Jesus coming from above since this stanza is comparable to a passage from the Bible; ‘And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good gidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,


Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.’51 With a good imagination we could probably find great amounts of Christian influence in Codex Regius but this depends as much on the readers’ background as on the intentions of the narrator. In our work with the Edda and the Codex Regius we will be aware of external influences and try to find the religion behind the narratives.

5.3 Source Criticism of the History Part
The history books which we have used as sources to the history part of our project are mostly based on archaeological findings, relics and the contemporary literature describing the era. The modern scholar in history makes his own interpretations of the material he has. He includes the facts he considers as being substantial and leaves out the rest, some of which other historians may find very significant. We have to be aware of this when we use the information of the history books and keep in mind that they are subjective interpretations of the historian.

5.3.1 Archaeology
As there is a lack of literature from the Viking era the knowledge we have about this period is mostly based on what relics have been found. From relics found all over Europe concerning the Norse we can see where they traded, raided and which territories they colonised. From the different ships which have been discovered we can conclude how and why they were capable of travelling as far as they did. These ships represent an outstanding epoch in the history of the craft of shipbuilding. The high quality of these ships testify of the great craftsmanship of the Vikings. From the graves we can get a greater understanding of their perception of death. The things which are buried with the dead often give us insight to what their tools, their clothing and their utensils looked like and from the food found in graves we can see what their diet consisted of. We can also see difference between poor and

The Bible, The St. James version, St. Luke, II stanza 9-14 29

rich. Skeletons found and examined make us capable of concluding that human sacrifices took place and that thralls existed. From relics, such as epigraphs, motifs of mythic events and runic inscriptions made on stones and other subjects, we are presented with a grandiose and very developed culture. Even if most of our history part is based on books based on primarily archaeological findings, we have also used some contemporary literary sources. These are the narratives of Adam of Bremen and Ahmad ibn Fãdlan ibn al-Abbas ibn Rashid ibn Hammad. We will in the following section look at the background of these authors and thus try to examine their reliability.

5.3.2 Adam of Bremen
We know very little of Adam of Bremen as the sources lack sufficient information. He is estimated to have lived around 1040-108152 and he described himself as coming to Bremen in 1066 and his spelling of place names implies that he could have come from southern Germany53. During the first few years in Bremen he visited the Danish King Sven Estridsen who supplied him with material on the Nordic and in particular Danish history. This material became one of his main sources to his later literary work. In 1066 he became canon of the Law school and wrote ‘Historia Hammaburgensis ecclesiae’ probably around the year 1075. This is assumed as he speaks of Sven Estridsen as both living and passed away. His final work consisted of four books three on Episcopal residence history and one on Northern geography. He probably added the last comments to his work in 108154. After his death others continued to add information to his writings, this has effected the content and raises questions about the reliability. Adam of Bremen used mainly primary written sources and took great care of how to use them in his work. Secondary oral accounts, that might not be as accurate as
52 53 54

Bremen, Adam af 1978 pg. 7 Bjernum, Jørgen 1974 pg. 127 Bremen, Adam af 1978 pg. 7 30

primary written material, were also included and he remarks that he was aware of the ensuing contradictions in the text. As of today his work stands as the most complete description of that time despite the fact that he did not have access to as many written sources and relics as we do today. The Icelandic Sagas and to a certain degree Saxo’s work based the vast majority of their historical facts of that time on the literature written by Adam. There is reason, however, to doubt the truth value of some of the statements in his texts: ‘. . . circa haec litora Baltici maris ferunt esse Amazonas, qoud nunc terra feminarum dicitur; eas aquae gustu dicunt aliqui concipere. Sunt etiam, qui referunt eas fieri pregnantes ab his, qui pretereunt, negociatoribus, vel ab his, quos inter se habent captivos sive ab aliis monstris quae non rara habentur, et hoc credimus etiam fide dignius: cumque pervenerint ad partum, si quid masculini generis est, fiunt cinucephali, si quid feminini, speciosissimae mulieres. Hae simul viventes spernunt consortia virorum, quos etiam, si advenerit, a se repellunt viriliter. Cynocephali sunt, qui in pectore caput habent; in Ruzzia videntur sepe captiva, et cum verbis latrant in voce.’ ‘. . . the Amazons live by the Baltic sea’s coast which today is called The Land of The Women. Some claim that they conceive just by drinking water. There are also those who tell that they get pregnant with travelling merchants or with prisoners of war which they keep captive or with other strange beasts, which was not an uncommon sight in their country - and this explanation I find most believable. The children they give birth to become, if they are male, Dogheads but if they are female the most beautiful women. -. . . - Dogheads are creatures which have their head on their chests. In Russia they are often seen in captivity and in their barking you can hear words.’55 One have to take into consideration that he had to include such stories to be considered a respectable and reliable historian as his readers might have found him untrustworthy if they could find such stories in other respected historians texts. If one looks at the book, which mostly concerns his observations of Northern geography and to a certain extent the Nordic people, his descriptions seem very reliable. However, when he deals with secondary oral sources, he is far from critical. Even though he might seem unreliable in our eyes today because of such tales as


Bremen, Adam af 1978 pg. 38. Own translation 31

the ‘Doghead’ story one has to remember that such stories at that time were common and considered to be true by most people or at least it was a good story.

5.3.3 Ibn Fãdlan
For centuries only incomplete versions of ibn Fãdlan’s Risala, pieced together from long quotations in other Arabic works, were thought to exist. In 1923 A. Zeki Validi Togan discovered a long forgotten book containing four geographical writings, Risala included. Ahmad ibn Fãdlan ibn al-`Abbas ibn Rãshid ibn Hammãd, as he is called in full, was one of two faqíhs appointed to a delegation that was to visit the land of the Volga Bulgaria on the request of the king of that area. Learned in Islamic law, it was his duty to assist in matters of religious orthodoxy and also to organise the construction of a mosque and minbar56 We presume Fãdlan’s account of his journey57 is an expansion of an official report written to inform Caliph al-Muqtadis, 908-932, of the expedition’s progress, with added detail to capture the learned reader. This presumption is grounded on the fact that Fãdlan greatly emphasises his work as a missionary and his patience when attempting to convert the Volga Bulgarian’s to the true faith. His success as a diplomat and missionary would directly influence his further career. There was, however, a second motive for Fãdlan’s journey. As a geographer he would gain esteem by visiting far-away places personally and his inquisitive nature made him a good ‘adventurer’. He describes the customs and religions of all the peoples he encounters in a lively and interesting way. Risala describes the delegation’s journey leaving Baghdad on the 2nd April 921 and arriving in the land of Volga Bulgaria early the following summer, a journey not entirely safe once outside the Caliphate and in relatively hostile land. Fãdlan entertains his reader with his own observations of the people and lands he encounters - down to the biting cold of Djurdjaniya, which deep-freezes the camels and glues his face to the pillow.


The chair from which an Iman, an Islamic religious person preaches.


While staying with the Volga Bulgarians ibn Fãdlan has the chance of meeting a group of Vikings who are on a trading mission and have anchored their ships in the river Ãtil58. This impressive people, more commonly known as the Russ, is totally alien to him and yet seems to sincerely interest him. He takes the passive role of observer rather than the aggressive role of missionary. Ibn Fãdlan’s writing is supported by archaeological findings in Scandinavia as well as in Russia - an example being the Ladby ship found near Kerteminde, filled with animal sacrifices and worldly treasures. Human sacrifices can likewise be verified through excavations. However, without doubting Fãdlan’s observations, we have no way of knowing whether Vikings in other parts of the world performed similar rites and to which extent the Russ had assimilated to the aboriginal religion of the region. So while in no way calling ibn Fãdlan unreliable we can make conclusions about the Volga Vikings and them only from his writings. The Arabic alphabet, containing no vowels and only separated by diacritical marks underneath and on top of the consonants, is more easy to copy incorrectly than Latin or English.59 For this reason we have different versions of parts of Risala, but while the words are different, the contents are identical. This is the inevitable toll of time. It is claimed that the Arabic geographical tradition was generally less biased and therefore more reliable than the European tradition. Although ibn Fadlãn’s trip was directly related to the religious and political interests of the Caliph, there is no attempt on the part of the delegation to convert the infidels they come across and no condemnation of their ways. As a geographer, ibn Fãdlan sees himself as an observer and only tries to influence the Volga Bulgarians as they are already in the process of moving away from a nomadic life and religion to Islam and in fact had themselves requested the help of the faqíhs. Perhaps Moslems, at that time, could be seen as less ethnocentric than Christians. It is also noteworthy, that purely scientifically, the more empirical methods of the Arab world fall closer to our own today than those of medieval Europe would.

57 58 59

Called Risala which can be translated to plain ‘travel book’. The river Ãtil is the Volga. Simonsen, Jørgen Bæk 1981 Pg. 27 33

5.3.4 Conclusion
The most reliable sources we have are the archaeological findings, but as these are presented to us by historians we have to be aware that this is the historians interpretation of the finding and therefore might not be objective. If we look at the more or less contemporary texts, we see Adam of Bremen, who is a Christian historian, quite reliable and visionary for his time although parts of his work may seem a bit doubtful, which we will keep in mind while working with his writings. Ibn Fãdlan, seems even more reliable but we have to bear in mind that he only speaks of the Vikings at the Volga, and these might not be representative of all Vikings. We furthermore should keep in mind that his future political carrier was probably relying on this text, and therefore we cannot be completely sure about his objectivity.

5.3.5 Comparison of Sources
E.H. Carr wisely argues that the historian is a product of his or her society and period60. Therefore we will compare different descriptions of the same ritual, a funeral, as depicted in some of our main sources. Snorri Sturluson in the myth of Baldr goes into details about the funeral. This is obviously of great interest to the historian or it might be a significant event in his society. When Baldr dies he is burned on a ship along with his wife who dies of grief. Along with them a live dverga is burnt. The dverga was not actually meant as a sacrifice but got kicked in to the fire when pissing Þórr off. Snorri goes on to tell that the Gods sacrifice precious things at the funeral, Òðinn sacrifices the ring Drypnir which every ninth night drips eight gold rings. Ibn Fãdlan describes the funeral of a wealthy chieftain in great detail. A female thrall volunteered to follow her master in death and after ten days of heavy drinking and preparing of the burial gown the day of the funeral arrives. As the corpse of the master is being dressed, the thrall has sexual intercourse with several of the Vikings who did it out of honour to her master.


Carr, Edward Hallett 1991 pg. 31-55 34

A horse, a dog, a hen and a rooster are sacrificed. The thrall is lifted thrice onto a wooden frame, then onto the ship along with six close friends of the deceased and an old woman called the Angel of Death. The men have sex with the thrall once again. They hold her hands and feet while a noose is tightened around her neck and she is stabbed between her ribs by the ‘Angel of Death’. The ship is then set on fire and disappears in the flames. The two sources above both mention other people following important persons in death, as some sort of sacrifice and both speak of the deceased being burnt on a ship. The two sources are of completely different origin but still they agree to a large extent. Thirdly archaeological findings support the description of this ritual. Ships have been found which are believed to have been used to bury people in61. Some places stones were laid in the contour of a ship as can be seen on Lindholm Høje near Aalborg. The sources somehow seem each to other contradict as ibn

Fãdlan tells us that the Volga Vikings disliked the idea of burial and our sources discovered archaeological have several

graves in other parts of the Viking world. This, however, need not be a contradiction customs Viking of as the different


varied. An archaeological fact, or lack of such, which supports this is that surprisingly few graves have been found in Sweden as opposed to Denmark and Norway. The Volga Vikings most likely originated from Sweden as most eastern bound Journeys were made by Swedish Vikings.


Our two other main sources Codex Regius and Adam of Bremen, do not go very much in to the subject of funerals. In Codex Regius, the myth of Baldr does not include the funeral but says that his murderer is burned too. Adam of Bremen’s only comment on funeral customs is when he says that King Olav is buried62.

5.4 Søren Nancke-Krogh
Søren Nancke-Krogh has a masters degree in prehistoric archaeology. The Danish newspaper ‘Politiken’ published on the 14th April 1996 the article ‘En kirke i vikingetidens blinde vinkel’ by Søren Nancke-Krogh where he claims that the Vikings were Christian as this is the only thing we really know about them. According to Søren Nancke-Krogh the Vikings did not know the Æsir Religion as it was all invented much later by Christian people in the Middle Ages because of nationalistic needs. He explains that our names for the week days such as onsdag, Óðinns day, are not mentioned anywhere before Saxo’s time 150 after the introduction of Christianity. The Vikings chronology was based on the cycles of the moon, meaning that they counted nights unlike the Romans who counted days and based their calendar on the sun. From this he concludes that the Vikings did not worship the Nordic God Òðinn, because there is no actual proof of this. Later in his article he discusses the origin of the Danish stone church Shelby at Susåen in Denmark. Some of its symbolic art can be dated to the Viking period. It has been recognised as being the same as on the Gokstadship, which is approximately 1100 years old. This makes it the oldest church in the North. 1100 years ago, or to be more specific, the decades around the year 900, is a blind angle in history because we do not have sources from that time which show what they actually believed in during that period, according to Søren Nancke-Krogh. He explains that the Vikings had a heretic Christian belief and that Shelby church was built at a time where the Christian buildings began to be accepted. He finishes off
61 62

Simonsen, Jørgen Bæk 1981 pg. 49 Bremen, Adam af 1978 pg. 31 36

by saying: ‘Det var ikke et skift fra hedenske nordiske guder til kristendommen.’ In English ‘It was not a change from heathen Nordic gods to Christianity’63. When we first saw this article our initial reaction was that this was quite a statement based on very little material. In order to more clearly understand what he had built his assumptions on we have looked into his book ‘Shamanens Hest, Tro og magt hos vikingerne’.

5.4.1 Shamanens Hest
In his book ‘Shamanens Hest, Tro og magt hos vikingerne’ he asks the question whether the Æsir Religion was a popular belief dictated. He claims that the Nordic historians presentation of the history of the Vikings is filled with confusing and conflicting facts. He feels a need for more source criticism and explains that a lot of literature has been declared totally or partly unusable. In 1911 Lauritz Weibull criticised the sources from around the year 1000 in Nordic history. The sources were mostly literature. The only book that was not criticised as to whether it was useful or not was Snorri’s Edda which was also written during the same period. According to Søren Nancke-Krogh we today think that the Vikings believed more in mythology than they actually did. Throughout the book he discusses shamanism and the different signs or pictures on relics which we today relate to mythology. He discusses the symbols and the backgrounds of these and how and what their meaning is when they appear on different relics. He also claims that the names Mímis and Sleipnir do not appear in any place names on relics. They are not mentioned on any runic inscriptions from the Viking era. This is true, but is it not possible that the names can have been transferred orally through time but just not written down until much later?


Nancke-Krogh, Søren ’En Kirke i Vikingetidens Blinde Vinkel’ Our translation 37

He claims that the name of the horse Sleipnir, Óðinn’s horse, does not appear until 1200 in the book Snorri’s Edda, even though pictures have been found of a horse with eight legs64. Søren Nancke-Krogh explains on page 69 where a picture of a horse with eight legs comes from. He takes his point of departure in a coin found on the Northwest Funen in Broskov which depicts a horse with eight legs. As he explains this coin is produced at the Danube in the South-eastern Europe around the year 300 AD. He assumes it must have been brought to Northern Europe by the Horsemen people. Around 700 AD the motif began being copied on to stones from Gotland. Then around 1050 the motif appears again but in a pure Christian connection. Thereby Søren Nancke-Krogh concludes that the motif of a horseman, Óðinn, riding a horse with eight legs must be a remnant from the time of the Shamans. Why could the horse with the eight legs not have been Óðinn’s horse even though the motif has been recognised elsewhere? On page 72-73 from ‘Shamanens Hest’ Søren Nancke-Krogh describes stars as symbols which are found on relics as Christian stars. The following quotation underlines how Søren Nancke-Krogh sees the possibility of Christianity much earlier than normally referred to. ‘Stjernen fra Ejsbøl kunne eventuelt være kommet med fremmede krigere; men der fører også en linie op i Sydsverige, hvor et beslægtet mønster, dog uden samme stjerne, er indhugget på en sten på Ynglingehög i Småland. Højens navn tyder på en forbindelse med Ynglingeætten, og det kan således måske være en af Nordens ældste kongegrave fra 400-tallet. Den ligger ikke fjernt fra det magtcentrum på Öland , som kan indikeres af våbenofringerne i Skedemosse. Da symbolet må være kristent, kan fremvæksten af en kongemagt således hænge sammen med denne tro. For at forstå den ældste kristendom i Norden, kræves også svar på spørgsmålet: Hvorfor var der så ingen kirker i Norden? Sagen er den enkle, at hverken kirkebygninger, præsteskab eller pave er indstiftet i den oprindelige kristendom. Alt dette er kompromisløsninger i områder, hvor man nødig ville opgive urgamle traditioner med kultbygninger og et magtfuldt præsteskab.’ 65 ‘The star from Ejsbøl could possibly have come with foreign warriors; but a line leads up through the south of Sweden where a related pattern is carved into a stone at Ynglingehög in Smäland, though, without the same star. The name of the hill seems to have a connection to Ynglingeætten
64 65

Nancke-Krogh, Søren 1996 Introduction. Ibid. pg. 72-73 38

and can therefore be one of the oldest tombs in the North from the year four hundred. It is not far from the power centre in Öland which can be seen from the sacrifices of weapons found in Skedemosse. Since the symbol has to be Christian the growth of a royal power can thus be related with this faith. In order to understand the Old Nordic Christianity the following question has to be answered: why are there not any churches in the North? The matter is as simple as this that neither the church buildings nor the priesthood or the pope was instituted in original Christianity. All this is solely compromise solutions in areas where they hardly wanted to give up the ancient traditions with cult buildings and a powerful priesthood.’66

5.4.2 Comments to Shamanens Hest
Søren Nancke-Krogh argues for his statements very thoroughly when he says that the Vikings did not really believe in the Æsir Religion. His explanations are based on a very detailed and worked through material, which seems very convincing. We still find it difficult to follow his reckoning as his theories do not sufficiently prove a general belief in Christianity. Instead he focuses on the missing proof of the Vikings believing in the Æsir Religion. Furthermore his ignoring of significant facts, as the name of the town Odense in Denmark which is clearly related to Óðinn or the runic inscription seen on the Kirkeby stone67, make him seem less than reliable. A man with a master-degree in prehistoric history ought to know such basic facts. This raises the question if Søren Nancke-Krogh chooses to ignore facts which may discredit his theories, which are so ground-breaking that they would bring his name in the papers and various reports. We will never be able to know whether the Vikings really believed in the Æsir Religion or not, we can only make assumptions, you can choose whatever you want to believe based on evidence which you find convincing, and the same goes for Søren Nancke-Krogh. If we wanted an exact answer we would have to go back in a time-machine and ask the Vikings themselves.

66 67

Our translation. See 6.8.1 Stones and Mythology 39

6. History of the Vikings
6.1 Introduction
The Vikings have throughout history had a bad reputation. Their activities are equated with rape and brutality. But they have also been invested with a strange glamour which in many ways contradicts their fearsome image. In a brutal age the Vikings were no more brutal than that of their contemporaries. The Vikings were administrators as well as pirates, merchants as well as robbers. The Scandinavians of the Viking Age had a strong and vital culture of their own, although they were always ready to take up outside influences and ideas. They travelled further than Europeans had ever done before and established regular communications over great distances. They exploited the riches of the eastern world and explored the uncharted waters of the North Atlantic Ocean. They settled as farmers, (re)discovered America, served as mercenaries at the court of Byzantium and ravaged and destroyed Christian Anglo-Saxon kingdoms. They extorted massive blackmail of silver and gold. Yet they also went on to colonise rich commercial centres from York to Kiev and formed powerful states. It was an age where wealth rapidly changed hands. Vikings without silver sought to acquire it by whatever means possible and gain power and prestige by redistributing it. From the eight to eleventh century Viking groups developed from being unorganised raiders and powerful predatory armies into aggressive national states professing the Christian faith. Their adversaries and victims developed their own political and military organisation for defence. When peace and stability again returned, the explosion of population from Scandinavia had permanently altered the map of northern Europe and its power structure. To their western adversaries these Scandinavians were simply known as ‘Norse’, or more specifically from their kingdoms or district of origin. The Arabs referred to them as ‘fire worshippers’ or ‘heathens’ and the Byzantiums called them ‘barbarians’. But now the term ‘Viking’ has gained universal currency, synonymous with piracy, rapine and cruelty. The derivation of the name is uncertain, it has been linked to trading journeys, seafaring or dwelling in creeks and bays - all activities


based on the sea68. The home of the Vikings, the Nordic kingdoms, consisted of the three present-day kingdoms of Denmark, Sweden and Norway, and part of Finland. Their combined land mass is huge, extending over twelve hundred miles from north to south. It has been the faith of the Vikings to be seen in an idealised or unrealistic light. A single facet of their character or activities has often been isolated to make the moral or political point that they were savage, destructive barbarians or much later - a blue eyed, fair hair Aryan master race. In reality there was never one Viking people. During this period a northern version of the Germanic language was commonly understood across the Nordic kingdoms, which enabled groups from different areas to co-operate on joint enterprises. To find out who the Vikings really were, we cannot and will not try to do in this project. The purpose of this chapter is to present several aspects about the history of the Vikings. We are not going to go into details but rather give the reader a general background about the Vikings. Enjoy.

6.2 Timetable
The Vikings in their raids reached as far as Vínland69 to the west to Volga in the east,- Greenland in the north and to Spain in the south. These raids did not only include barbaric plundering but peaceful trading and colonising as well. 515 - Danish King called Chochilias ravages the Franconian coasts. 700 - Beginning of the first Christian mission in Denmark. 700 - (8th century) The Swedish Vikings began expeditions and the colonisation of the Eastcoast of the Baltic Sea. 737 - The foundation of Danevirke. A thirty kilometre defence work at the southern border area of Denmark starting in the area of Hedeby in the east to the two streams Rheide and Treene in the west. 787 - Danish Vikings arrive in England on a raid. (The Wessex kingdom with King Brithtric.)

68 69

Graham-Campbell, James 1980 pg. 13 Vínland is probably New Foundland. 41

793 - Vikings arrives to Northumberland near the borders of Scotland, and attacks are made on the island of Lindisfarne, and later on the island Jarrow. 795 - Attack on the island Iona, and from there further on to Ireland. 799 - Viking raiders recorded on the coast of south-west France. 800 - (9th century) Swedish Vikings trade in Eastern Europe. (As far as to Konstantinopel (Istanbul) in Turkey, which the Vikings called Miklagarð.) 800 - (9th century) A lot of Nordic societies arose in Russia and the south coast of the Baltic Sea. 810 - Danish King Godfred attacked Friesland. 813 - A Danish king made an expedition to Norway to re-establish power. 834-37 - Repeated attacks on Dorestad, Germany. 841 - The Vikings sailed down the Seine in France. 842 - London was plundered by the Vikings. 843 - Norwegian Vikings sailed up the Loire river and plundered Nantes. 844 - Seville in Spain was conquered by Vikings, but they were soon driven away. 845 - Vikings plundered Paris and Hamburg. 850 - After having plundered along the Seine the Vikings were offered land for peace. 850 - The first Danish churches were built by Ansgar70. 859 - The chieftains Bjørn Jernside and Hasting from Loire went on a raid for three years. It is said that they came to Spain, North Africa, the Valley of Rhône and Italy. 860 - (Approximately) Iceland was discovered. 865 - Different groups of Vikings began plundering England starting in Kent and afterwards East Anglia, Northumberland, York (866) and then Mercia in Middle England. Some of the most important leaders were the Lodbrog sons. In a few years England was under Viking power and they had come to stay. They were referred to as ‘The heretic army’ by the Frisconians. Before 870 - The colonisation of the Faeroe Islands. 870 - The colonisation of Iceland began. (Mostly Norwegian Vikings.) 876-879 - Colonisation of England. 885-86 - Paris under siege. 890-91 - Harald Hårfager gains power and unites Norway. 899 - The end of the 9th century the Danes get a piece of land in North England, Danelagen.
Roesdahl, E. Árnadôttir L.1992 pg. 393-395 says the first churches were built in 850, according to Horstbøll, H. et al. 1988 pg. 54 it was not until the year 900.


911 - Normandy is founded and the Viking chieftain Rollo comes into power. 930 - Vikings out of Bretagne. 948 - Bishops in Slesvig, Ribe and Århus. 950 - Attempt to make Norway Christian. 954 - England united. 960-62 - Danish king Harald Blåtand re-establishes Danish influence in Norway 965 - Harald Blåtand makes the Danes Christian71. 974 - The Danish King Harald Gormsson and the ruler of Norway Jarl Haakon united to defend Danevirke district against the attacks of the German Emperor Otto the 2nd,- but Otto won the battle. 980 - Trelleborg, Aggersborg, Fyrkat and Nonnebakken were built. 983 - Harald Blåtand conquers the border lands once more. 985 (approximately) Greenland was discovered by Eirik the Red. 995 - Olav Tryggvason unites Norway. 1000 - Iceland was officially Christianised. 1000 - (Around 1000) The Nordic people from Greenland arrived to North America. 1013 - Svend Tveskæg conquered England and became king. 1016 - Svend Tveskæg died and his son Knud took over. 1035 - King Knud dies and the empire falls apart. 1060 - Denmark was separated into eight bishoprics. 1100 - King Magnus Barfod claims Norwegian power over the ‘Vesterhavsøerne’ and conquers Dublin. 1100-10 - the first monasteries in Norway. 1147 - Danish crusade against Rügen.

It is difficult to put in specific facts concerning what nationality the Vikings had in a certain event, some sources claims they were Danish Vikings and others Norwegian.

Ibid. pg.393-395. One source says that Harald Blåtand made the Danes Christian in the year 965. Horstbøll, H. et al. 1988 pg. 55 describes that Harald Blåtand has written on the ‘Jellingestenen’, that he christened the Danes in 945.


Therefore we have decided not to mention the nationality, when we had different information.

6.3 The Appearance of the Viking
From skeletons we know that the average height of people in the time of the Vikings for men was about 172 cm and for women 158-160 cm. The skeletons discovered from the Viking era also tell us that dental problems caused by their eating and hygiene habits and sufferings like arthritis were normal. They rarely became very old. The oldest person found was 55 years, an generally looked like Nordic people do today.72 An English chronicle writer once wrote that the Vikings were popular among the English women because they were so clean. They took a bath every Saturday and combed their hair but not everybody thought the same about them.73 We have two sources which describe Vikings in details. These are ibn Fãdlan and Adam of Bremen. Whether they are totally reliable or not we shall never know for sure. In 922 ibn Fãdlan wrote down his observations from this visit. His descriptions are very detailed and very interesting, he is clearly both fascinated and impressed by the appearance of this foreign people, but at the same time also repelled by their way of life. In the following quotation of his book we get ibn Fãdlan’s first impression of the Vikings. ‘Never have I seen people of more perfect physique; they are tall as datepalms, and reddish in colour. They wear neither coat nor mantle, but each man carries a cape which covers one half of his body, leaving one hand free. 74 He describes their appearance by saying: ‘Each of them carry an axe, a sword and a knife. They are never without these things. Their broad-swords are decorated in a Franconian fashion. Every one of them is covered (with tattoos?) from finger-tip to neck with green trees, pictures and other things.
72 73 74

Roesdahl, Else 1987 pg. 38-40 Ibid. pg. 40 Crossley-Holland, Kevin 1980 pg. XV 44

. . . each day, without fail, they wash their faces and hair in the most putrid and repugnant water. . . When the first man is finished, a slave carries the bowl of water on to the next, who continues. . . Each one of them blows his nose, spits and washes his face and hair in this water. . .’

The following quotation shows his opinion concerning the Vikings hygiene. ‘They are the most filthy of Allah’s creations. They do not wash after having made bowel-movement, peed, or sexual intercourse, and they never wash hands after having eaten. Surely they are lost donkeys.’ 76 To explain his contempt of the Viking’s hygiene we have to take into consideration that a Moslem has a different way of life with other hygiene habits.77 Some of his descriptions in the book give us the impression that the Vikings really were wild animals, but it is a fact that the Arabic world was much more civilised than Northern Europe at that time. Adam af Bremen explains in his book ‘En beskrivelse af øerne i Norden’ different travelling routes, the Vikings and the geography of the North. From his writings we also get a picture of morals and ethics, which the following quotation shows. ‘si vel regiae maiestatis rei vel in aliquo fuerunt scelere deprehensi, decollari malunt quam verberari. Alia non est ibi species penae preter securem vel servitutem, et tunc, cum dampnatus fuerit, laetum esse gloria est.’ 78 ‘But if a man is accused of insulting the majesty or apprehended for another kind of crime he will rather be decapitated than whipped. Other kinds of punishments you will not find among the Vikings, that is except from the axe and slavery, and if the convicted person appears to be happy he thereby gains honour.’ 79 ‘quibos est omni probro gravius hospicium negare transeuntibus, ita ut studium vel certatem habeant inter illos, quis dignus sit recipere hospitem.’ 80

75 76 77 78 79 80

Simonsen, Jørgen Bæk 1981 pg. 53 Our translation. Ibid. pg. 52-53. Our translation. A Moslem has to wash his hands, feet and face before praying five times a day. Bremen, Adam af 1978 pg. 28 Our translation. Bremen, Adam af 1978 pg. 42 45

‘To them it is a great disgrace to deny anybody shelter, they even fight with glee amongst each other who is to receive the guest in their home.’ 81 Adam of Bremen has several descriptions of people or Vikings from different areas, some parts of his descriptions are purely fictive. He talks about one eyed demons and women who give birth to male children with dog heads. The following quotation is from his descriptions of the Sembs and the Prussians. ‘Carnes iumentorum pro cibo sumunt, quorum lacte vel cruore utuntur in potu, ita ut inebriari dicantur. Homines cerulei, facie rubea, et criniti. Preterea inacsessi paludibus nullum inter se dominum pati volunt.’ 82 ‘They eat horse meat and mix the milk and the blood in their drinks, from which they get drunk. The inhabitants are blue-green with redcheeked faces and long hair. Furthermore, they are difficult to find because of the bogs and they do not tolerate any Lord amongst them.’ 83 Whether the Vikings were clean gentlemen or dirty pigs depended on what they were doing or the situation. When they were abroad for longer time on raids or in other cases they could obviously not remain nice and clean.

6.4 The Structure of Viking Society
The basic structure of Viking society was kingdoms with smaller societies, tribes, run by Chieftains. These tribes had their own courts, called Ting. This self jurisdiction was approved of by the king since it made it easier for him to keep internal peace in the Kingdom. Furthermore, there were larger communities which consisted of several tribes which also had a ting, for inter tribal troubles, and a joint cult place. The king collected tax which were put on all trade. This was used for the defence of the country and the raids.

6.4.1 Tribes
The tribes in Viking societies were characterised by being divided into three hierarchic categories. The lowest being the thralls, the middle being the free nonland owners, and the highest being the free land owners. The middle category consisted of servants, craftsmen and tradesmen, the latter probably very often being

81 82 83

Our translation. Bremen, Adam af 1978 pg. 38 Our translation. 46

foreigners. The men of this category had a say in legal matters but were probably not as respected as the free land owners. This last category consisted of small farmers, rich and very big farmers and the chieftain. The richest farmers and the chieftains formed the aristocracy in the Kingdom. As with the thralls, you were born into your class, owning land, and therefore the Vikings had very strict regulations concerning heritage.

6.4.2 Thralls
According to Rígsþula in Codex Regius you were born into your social status. This means that children born into a family of land owners would never normally become thralls. One such exception would be if you were taken prisoner on a Viking raid as this was the main procedure the Vikings used to acquire thralls. The myth tells how Heimdallr disguised himself as Rígr who travelled around and met three different couples, the first couple poor and rough looking. Rígr slept between the man and his wife and nine months later a child was born who was given the name Thrall. This is how the Vikings rationalised and justified their social system. The thralls had no say in legal matters and no say over themselves, though it seems as if they had some regulations as to what could be demanded of them. In Grágás84 we find actual laws regarding the thralls. Grágás is a collection of Icelandic laws from the 12th century. This collection of laws follow the main points in what we, from Íslendingabók, know about the constitution of 10th century Iceland. From time to time a thrall was sacrificed to the gods and sometimes he or she followed his master into death, and was thereby rewarded with a great funeral and a rich life after death. Most thralls were simply buried in a hole in the ground, though. It was possible to improve your status as a thrall to become a craftsman or maybe a small land owner. Sometimes they were bought free and sometimes they were set free by their masters. If they had developed a craft during their slavery, it might


Sørensen, Preben Meulengracht 1977 pg. 13 47

have been possible for them to buy their own freedom, from the money they had earned. In any case, it would take several generations before they were considered completely free and had full legal status in society and Grágás tells us that a special ceremony at the ting was called for, in order to initiate a new legal member of society. Possibly many colonisers and craftsmen were former thralls.

6.4.3 Free ones
This was the biggest group and the backbone of society in this period. To be free meant to the Vikings that if you were a man you had the right to be heard on public issues at ting, you had the right to carry weapons and you were protected by law. Possibly, the freedom was determined by money or land, and the legal position was dependent on whether you were free because of your wealth, land or family. You can say that you inherited your legal position. In the Rígsþula this is also explained by the same myth as with the thralls. Rígr visited another couple, which was plain but healthy. This couple owned a small farm. The same thing as with the first couple happened, he slept between the man and his wife and nine months later a little farmer was born. Most free people worked on the farms. Some had their own farms and the richest of these had so much land that they could lease it. The rich farmers were obliged to serve the king in times of war. They could not just send a thrall. As with the thralls, a free person could improve their social status by increasing their fortune. The respect for gold, silver and big achievements was great. Increasing one’s fortune could be done by piracy, raids, by serving a big Chieftain or the king or by trade or colonisation. The family of a Viking consisted of both the mother’s and the father’s family. Normally one’s position and possibilities were determined by the relations between siblings, married couples or parent/children relationship. This ‘close’ family was also what one was responsible for. Only in the case of murder, one could be held responsible for actions done by other relatives. This also applies the other way


around, meaning that if a relative of yours was killed, you had to revenge it, even though if it was your cousin or even more distant family. There were other small communities than the family. Two persons could own a ship together and were therefore responsible for each other, there were trade communities and communities of warriors which obliged you. The Viking women were for a large part equally respected compared to the men. They did not have the same functions in society but their work in the households, and the raising of children, was acknowledged and respected. Several runic stones were put up in honour of women, and the graves of women are just as magnificent as those of the men. It seems, though, that women did not take part in other communities than those of the family and the cults. The domestic rites were often taken care of by the woman.

6.4.4 The Aristocracy
The Chieftains, or the big landowners, were, most likely, in charge of the official rites. In Viking villages there has always, so far, been found one building which is much larger than the rest that, probably, belonged to the Chief or the most prosperous land owner.

6.4.5 Marriage
When marrying, the father of the bride received a certain amount of money in compensation. Later on in history, we do not know exactly when, the bride herself got that money. Originally a marriage was a deal between two families of equal social position, and it seems as if the bride, at least, did not have a say until later. When Christianity arrived, rules were made so the bride had to be at least 12 years old and the groom at least 14, so probably they were married at an even younger age before Christianity came along. Maybe these rules also changed the young couple’s possibility to protest against the marriage.

6.4.6 The Everyday Life of the Viking
The working conditions of the Viking were greatly influenced by the surroundings of each village. This means that to describe the life of the Vikings we have to be very general as landscape and the culture differ very much throughout the Nordic

kingdoms. Some places cattle breeding and hunting were the most important aspects of their work and households, in other places farming or fishing were the crucial factors. The fact that the Vikings expanded their areas also created a lot of work for them, clearing new fields for stones, trees and bushes. Also the introduction of new and better tools, like the plough, would encourage the Vikings to move to areas more suitable. In order for the Vikings not to exhaust the fertility of their soil, they moved a bit around but except for their emigrations, they basically stayed in the same area because of the connection to their sacred places.

6.4.7 The Villages of the Farmers
A typical village consisted of several farms which then again consisted of one main building with a private section in one end and a stable in the other. The fields outside were surrounded by fences. Furthermore, the farms had some small buildings close to the fence. These buildings might have been used for servants and thralls but also for different workshops, winter fodder stocks and maybe even for stables as well. There was also a barn and small cellar-like buildings which might have been used for weave sheds. Some farms had wells and some even a smithy. The the quite thirty the owner buildings main long, were mostly rectangular, building maybe metres, was and

depending on how rich how much cattle he had. The buildings had a wooden skeleton but the walls were also made of wickerwork and clay. The barn was always square but the other buildings, except from the cellar-like ones, were normally similar in the construction to the main building, just smaller. The cellar-like buildings were built of soil and were partly under the ground, which therefore made them chilly and humid. These soil buildings were around two and a half to three metres times three to four metres large.


A Viking farm was practically self sufficient, some farms even had a surplus, which could be used for trading. Excavations have brought forth relics from distant countries which supports the theory of their trade85. Throughout time the buildings became more sophisticated and bigger. Part of the skeletons which earlier were inside the buildings later were put outside and it was not unusual for the stables of the large farms to have room for a cattle stock of one hundred heads. On their fields they mostly grew barley, oats, rye, peas, beans and cabbage. The field was divided by small channels into long beds which enabled the workers to walk along the bed digging the weeds etc. Furthermore, the channels also had the function of draining the fields. The domestic animals were the same as is known in Scandinavian farming today but in addition to using horses and cows for draught animals and food, the skin of these animals, and of the goats, were also used for shoes and parchment. Probably bees were also important in many places, since honey was the only known sweetener, an important preservative and one of the ingredients in mead.

6.4.8 The Hunters and Fishers
In the northern part of Scandinavia, the landscape was not suitable for large scale crop farming. Therefore the Vikings living in these areas had to base their economy on either fishing, hunting or cattle breeding. This created a different kind of life for them. The landscape did not make it possible for the smaller villages to prosper into larger communities. The farms in the mountains were situated at a large distance from each other and consisted of a large number of smaller rectangular buildings, the inside of the walls made of wood, the outside of stone. The reason for the large number of small buildings might have been that, in order to survive, you had to have a diversity of functions, meaning that you were not just a farmer, hunter or a fisher, you were all. Thus, you also had to have buildings for the preparation and stocking of the different goods, and stables etc.


Roesdahl, Else 1987 pg. 116 51

One other factor in the life of the Vikings is the extracting of iron. Traces of mines have been found many places. This, along with limestone and slate which was used for pots, was very important for their trade. Other articles for their trade were also the skin of reindeer, fish, whales and walruses. Last but not least, the Vikings also traded thralls. The Vikings utilised the resources around them to the utmost, which is a reason for the wealth of some of the Vikings. But not all Vikings were successful and they lived on a minimum of food, which is why just a slight change of weather, one year, could be a catastrophe for them.

6.5 Fate and Harmingja.
6.5.1 Fate
Like us, the Norse saw a person as separated into a physical side, the body, and an immaterial part, the soul. The first humans, Askr and Embla, were innate figures of wood until Óðinn gives them ‘hugr’ - which covers thought, feeling, respiration and the senses but also fate.86 This belief in fate, like our own, does not exclude the ‘free will’, although in the case of the Vikings fate was much more bombastic and final leading to Skírnir’s sentiment in Skírnismál: ‘Kostir ro betri an at klökkva séi hveim es fúss es fara, einu dægri mér vas aldr of skapaðr ok alt líf of lagit’ ‘Fearlessness is better than a faint heart for any man who puts his nose out of doors The length of my life and the day of my death were fated long ago’87

86 87

See also chapter 6.5.1 Fate Crossley-Holland, Kevin 1980 pg. xix 52

A man is identical with his fate, and his fate is his fault. This is evident in the story of Baldr’s death, where the blind and blameless Höðr is slain to avenge Baldr’s death88. The Nornir Urðr, Verðandi and Skuld are present at the instance of a child’s birth, and there and then decide the length and quality of the baby’s life. They are neither good nor bad, but are blamed for bad luck, as people have a tendency to focus on the bad things, the judgement of the Nornir is seen as equal to death and destruction. The Nornir do not only decide the fate of human mortals, but also dverga, gods and jötun. They reside under Yggdrasil by Urðarbrunn from which they splash water on the great tree - even the axis mundi cannot get by without them. Each farm house or area had a tree or well where the local cult unfolded. ‘Nornegrød’ - Nornir Porridge, was boiled during childbirth to bribe the nornir, a tradition continued in parts of Norway until recently.89 The Nornir are often called Vakjyrjur in literature, especially as the helpers of the Gods of War - it is they who divide fighters into winners and losers by using magical chains to paralyse those warriors who are to be taken to Valhöll to fight at Ragnarökrs.

6.5.2 Harmingja
The Norse concept of ‘harmingja’ is unlike anything we know of and describes a kind of personal mana. Harmingja simultaneously points at the long, good life, and at personal power, present in the individual from birth, that leads to such a life90. The concept of a persons harmingja was the result of the whole of that person charismatic, lucky, successful, morally ‘superior’, the ‘lykkemand’ was good with words and aware of the power his words held over others, a ‘golden boy’. A plan had a much better chance of being successful if a ‘lykkemand’ was involved, just as a word of advice or encouragement from him was full of luck. Snorri describes the Norwegian King Harald Hårfager as such - tall, broad and beautiful, he was the best hunter, warrior and athlete as well as having the gift of the gab and being happy, generous, loyal, his friends’ friend and his enemy’s enemy.
88 89 90

Jónsson, Finnur 1932 Völuspá stanza 31-32 Larsen, Uffe Hartvig 1989 pg. 99 Ibid. pg. 102 53

‘Harmingja’ was hereditary - that is to say that a king or chieftains kith was supposed to be especially full of mana. If this was not the case, the ‘culprit’ suffered. King Domalde of Sweden was thus made responsible for years of famine in the country and sacrificed at Uppsala the following year91. His son Domar, had the right harmingja, and they all lived happily ever after. The power of a king was not great in this era, making harmingja even more essential to gain respect. Swords, rings and other kin relics possessed kin mana, and could be very useful. However, this harmingja was not a resource to be used, the ‘chemistry’ of the artefact and its owner had to work. A woman brought her own family’s harmingja into her marriage through jewellery and in this way her children gained a part of her fathers and brothers kin luck. She could also pass male artefacts on to her children if there were no men to do it. Names possess the same magical force, and it was often the case that a grandson was named after his father’s father. In this way kin continuity was achieved and the child was fused with his family’s nature.

6.5.3 Hugr and Hamskifti
The Vikings separated the soul into two parts. Hugr was the mind, the feelings, will and senses. The other was the ‘free’ soul, which could, if the circumstances were right, leave the physical body. The inner soul could travel in outer reality. Characteristic for the Norse, this inner soul had a concrete form - that of an animal, and later also that of a woman. This is called ‘hamskifti’, and a person with this ability ‘hamram’. Óðinn was the greatest shape-shifter of them all, as seen with his many names and tendency to travel incognito and also his ability to see everything and all times. The shape-shifter would become a fylgji, an animal form which suited his nature - a bear, oxen or deer for example. A man’s fylgji could appear in other people’s dreams or as a warning late at night. It could travel in the outer world to investigate land far away or spy, and could also be used negatively to harm others. It is even


Ibid. pg. 104 54

possible that duels were fought in this way, the two fylgji’s body meanwhile lifeless and immobile. On returning to one’s own self again, fatigue could be expected. Likewise one would be able to physical detect wounds on the body of the hamram if his fylgji had been injured while wandering. The berserkers were actually men in the shape of bears. They were warriors in an alternative physical and mental state which made them immune to pain and incredibly strong. They fought in rage, and it is said that they were hamram.92 It has been suggested that the hamram, including the berserkers, were under the influence of mind-altering substances such as fly-ageric, psilocybe or ergot of barley. This is because other people, up to our own times, have recorded experiences like those of the hamram in connection with psycopharmica93. Hallucinogens are said to ‘constitute a plunging of the mind into an area of myth, transpersonal symbols, and archetypes.’94

6.6 Rituals

The performance of rituals was most likely one of the important aspects of the belief in the Æsir Religion. Through rituals the common people reached contact to the upper powers or gods and secured the blessing to a good life and fertility for man and beast. The humans existence, happiness and the continuation of life was dependent on having a good relationship with the gods.95 The religion was integrated in the daily life of a society and religious actions were a natural part of daily doings. The house wife, man or whole house could take care of these actions in the daily life whereas in bigger social gatherings the cult could be taken care of by the political religious leader. This person was normally a man but could also be a women, the male person was called a góði and the female a gyðja.

92 93 94 95

Larsen, Uffe Hartvig 1989 pg. 109 Furst, Peter T. 1976 pg. 51 Ibid. pg. 51 Sørensen, Preben Meulengracht et al. 1990 pg. 37 55

The big annual religious gatherings are being referred to as blot. To blote means to strengthen. Through the cult and sacrifices the humans increased the gods’ powers to act.96 The Nordic people’s kings should at a blot ask the gods for árs ok friðar; peace and a good year. We assume that the gods to whom they asked for árs ok frioar should be Óðinn and Þórr because they were the mightiest Gods, but they directed their wishes to Niörðr and his son Freyr.97 It was not only the greater powers that needed to be strengthened but also the social community.

6.6.1 The Year, Day and Night
The Norse separated their day and night in four parts: Sunrise, Mid-day, Sunset and Midnight.

Axel Olrik assumes that rituals performed at sunrise and sunset were the most important because of the great contrasts which may have seemed sacred. The year was by the Norse separated into four parts just like day and night: Summer, Midsummer, Winter and Midwinter. According to Axel Olrik the ancient people in the old Nordic world and the Middle Ages counted the nights and winters98. He explains that the year was cyclic and corresponding to the moon. According to Snorri there were three annual storblot, harvest seasons, one in the middle of October, another in midwinter, around Christmas, and a third when summer began in the middle of April.

96 97 98

Roesdahl, Else 1992 pg. 148 Olrik, Axel 1951 pg. 609-610 Ibid. pg. 589-593 56

In the blot in the middle of April Óðinn was the most important God because they needed his blessing when they went on raids. They performed blot for good luck on the journey and for victory. The harvest and winter blot was directed to the gods of fertility.99

6.6.2 Sacred Places and Sacrifices
There are no actual proofs that a priesthood existed which could take care of the religious actions nor that special places or buildings in connection to this existed like in Christianity. Because of the close connection between the religious actions and daily life they did not need a special place to perform their rites. Today we assume that sacred places existed for cult performances. The word hov was earlier supposed to mean a sacred building to perform religious actions in but the word was by later research found to mean a hall for social gatherings. This hall could be decorated for cult performances. Another word for a place for cult actions is hørg and it is assumed to have been a sacred place in nature maybe bound by stones with a symbol of a god in the middle.100 In Viking society the sacrifices took place with everyone present. The good relation to the gods was most important and therefore the actual belief was not as important as the sacrifices and rituals. Adam of Bremen describes a blot which takes place at a sacred place called Upsala in Sweden. According to Adam of Bremen the sacred place was made entirely out of gold and in this place the people worshipped three statues of three of their gods being Þórr, Freyr and Óðinn. The blot he describes takes place every ninth year and it was a ceremony for all people in Sweden the poor as well as the rich, it was obligatory to join the blot and



Sørensen, Preben Meulengracht et al. 1990 pg. 38 Ibid. pg. 37-39 57

if a person would or could not attend he or she would have to pay a certain amount of money 101. ‘ex omni animante, quod masculinum est, novem capita offeruntur, quorom sanguine deos (tales) placari mos est. Corpora autem suspenduntur in lucum, qui proximus est templo. Is enim lucus tam sacer est gentilibus, ut singulae arbores eius ex morte vel tabo immolatorum divinae credantur. Ibi etiam canes et equi pendent cum hominibus, quorum corpora mixtim suspensa narravit mihi aliquis christianorum LXXII vidisse. Ceterum neniae, quae in eiusmodi ritu libationis fieri solent, multiplices et inhonestae, ideoque melius reticendiae.’102 ‘They sacrifice nine heads of all sorts of living male creatures by which blood it is custom to appease the gods. The bodies on the other hand are being hung in a sacred clearing close to the shrine. This clearing however is so sacred to the heathens that every tree within are thought to have a divine power as a natural cause of the victims death and decay. There are also hung dogs and horses and even humans. One Christian has told me that he has seen 72 of these hung between each other! Apart from that they also sing which is a common thing during these rites, several songs which are indecent - which is why it is best to pass them in silence.’ 103

It is by more historians assumed that funeral sites could have been sacred places where they performed rituals, because of their shapes. As for instance the circle of stones from Hunn in Norway. One of the main reasons for this assumption is that earlier people took care of and worshipped their dead at the graves by sacrifices Only today we do it with flowers. At Lindholm Høje near Ålborg in Denmark a lot of graves formed with stones in the shape of a ship have been found. This way of burial symbolised the journey by ship in to the other world, the one after death.105 Ibn Fãdlan describes the Vikings religious customs saying that each man goes ashore with bread, meat, onions, milk and nabidh106. These things are sacrificed to a deity - a wooden pole with a face - to ensure good business. After a successful day sacrifices of cattle were made, giving some to the poor, and some to his deity.

Bremen, Adam af 1978 pg. 46-48 Ibid pg. 49 103 Our translation. 104 E.g. food and drinks. 105 Sørensen, Preben Meulengracht et al. 1990 106 Any alcoholic drink.
101 102


Fãdlan says this meat is eaten by dogs but that the Vikings see its disappearance as a sign of the approval and satisfaction of the Gods.107

6.6.3 Sacrifices, Burial Customs and Death
The Vikings respected their dead and left them equipment in the tombs and graves, whatever the dead might need when he or she entered the new world. A warrior got his weapons with him, a smith his tools. The idea was that the person would enter a new world and continue the same kind of life as he or she had had before, therefore the dead would need the same equipment as when being alive. There cannot be given any general descriptions of how the Vikings buried or cremated their dead relatives, as the graves found have been of different shapes and with very different content. It is most likely that each tribe or family had its own way of doing this with its own rituals and ceremonies which it followed. The content of the grave naturally depended on the status which the person had had alive. In a tomb of a chieftain found in Ladby, Denmark, the chieftain had with him; a ship, horses, dogs and lots of weapons. Graves found of noble women often contains carriages with teams and sewing materials. Combs, knifes and keys can be found in all graves. Human sacrifices were also made. Graves have been found containing two or more skeletons, one master with his or her thrall.108 We know from archaeological findings that thralls were often cremated with their masters109. Runic stones were used as monuments over the dead and the relatives could this way show their respect for their dead. According to the Æsir Religion there were more different places to end up once dead. From the different forms of ceremonies it is most likely that there were different ideas of how to enter the other world that waited after death. The dead could arrive in different ways as sailing or riding a carriage.

107 108 109

Simonsen, Jørgen Bæk 1981 pg. 54 Kjersgaard, Erik 1988 pg. 99-105 See chapter 5.3.5 Comparison of Sources 59

The farmer thought that after death he would be united with his dead relatives, whereas the warrior saw death as an invitation to Valhöll where they could fight on, drink and so on. The world of the Norse was a drama with humankind in the middle of everything with evil and bad on each side.

6.7 Morals and Ethics
As for the rest of our source material, what we know about moral and ethics is influenced a great deal by Christian philosophy, since most of our sources are postChristian take over. Moreover, whatever remnants we do have is most likely to have been produced for the people of the higher classes, because they were the ones able to afford having inscriptions carved in stone.

The most important aspect of the life of the Vikings were their families110. This is why all moral rules whatsoever have a connection of some kind to it. The Vikings had a great moral responsibility towards their kin and if you were a housecarl, you also had a moral responsibility towards your King.

In ‘Hávamál’ (Codex Regius) Óðinn expresses the Norse man’s family feeling in this way: ‘Hrönar þoll, sús stendr þorpi á, hlýrat henni bökr né barr; svá es maðr sás mangi ann; hvat skal hann leingi lifa?’ Naked Pine, stands without bark and pins, ashamed on; hill of gravel such is he who misses friend will his life be long?’ Hávamál stanza 50 Life without a family was not worth living. The kin was described as a chain, each member being a link. A link on its own is worthless, as is the chain missing a link.


See chapter 6.4.3 Free Ones 60

Peace within the kin constituted both internal and external security as you could be sure the family would protect or avenge you if outsiders were to attack.

This responsibility included defence, revenge and keeping your word.

Today we realise ourselves as individuals, but the Vikings were much more family orientated than we are. In the myths and legends we sense the isolation normal to this era where one farm could be a hard day’s ride from the next. A traveller was exposed to the whim and fancy of weather and chance, and a journey could be hazardous. Farms were often self-reliant, and the hard work of all hands, plus good luck, were needed to get by. Circumstances like this made the family even more essential.


The overall moral category was honour. ‘Deyr fé, deyja frændr, deyr sjalfr hit sama; ek veit einn at aldri deyr: dómr of dauðan hvern.’ ‘Cattle die, kinsmen die, I myself shall die, but one thing I know never dies: the reputation we leave behind at our death.’111 Hávamál stanza 76 In the absence of a timeless paradise, death was most final to the Norse man. His only hope for immortality was his reputation. Since those who are embittered never win respect or admiration, those whose goal was fame endured or better still laughed at hardship. Men and women expected their share of trouble, and the best of them attempted to rise above it and make a name for themselves through bravery, loyalty and generosity.

Therefore it was of utmost importance for them to defend the honour, either your own, the family’s or the King’s. Another important aspect for the Viking was loyalty. This is an essential quality in a society based on family structure.

If your honour was offended, the only way to re-establish it, was through revenge. In fact, the revenge gives the avenger a good reputation. This is a ‘practical’ moral, considering the importance of the honour in this society.

The fact that loyalty was so necessary and considered such a good quality could lead the Vikings to the paradox of having to choose between being loyal to their family as opposed to their Chief or King and vice versa. If a man was wounded or killed the family was obliged, and even pleased to, avenge this slight. Therefore a conflict was never between two individuals, but between two

Crossley-Holland, Kevin 1980 pg. xxi 62

collectives. Revenge was the death of the culprit, but if this offender was obviously too strong or powerful a sum of gold or number of animals could be used as compensation. If two parts could not settle a dispute between themselves, the matter would go to ‘tingi’. Punishment might be payment, outlawry or even death. To be outlawed was a terrible punishment. Survival outside society was harsh and hard, and being banished to the woods was a shameful fate. This dishonour was felt by all in the kin. To kill a member of your own kin placed you in an impossible situation. It was the start of a never-ending blood-bath - revenge must be taken again and again, at once solving a problem and creating a new one. In the Völuspá, Óðinn is pace with the problem that it is his duty to avenge the death of Baldr. He solves this by breeding Váli, who is family, and therefore qualified to take revenge, yet not a full member as he has not yet been ‘bathed’ and given a name when he slays Höðr. Deceit was considered an extremely bad quality when it was committed within the family. This was a consequence of the principle of loyalty. But on the other hand, guile towards the enemy was considered morally acceptable. A myth which illustrates this is when the Æsir chain the Fenrisúlfr112.

Another important aspect in the life of the Vikings was the wars, and it was therefore a good quality to be brave and enduring. In reward for being so, one received presents and was treated with great feasts. Generosity was considered as being a very good quality in a Landowner with plenty of farmland, King or Chief.

By being generous the Chief, King or Landowner showed and thereby ensured his power and social status in his Kingdom or tribe. As opposed to Christianity, wealth itself did not prevent you from leading a moral life according to the sagas and myths. On the contrary, wealth was considered a sign of a man’s happiness, his honour. But in order not to loose your happiness or honour you had to hand out your possessions. The myth has it that it should be the greed of gods and men which lead to Ragnarökrs113. To stress this point, the jötun were always described
112 113

Young, Jean 1954 pg. 56-57 According to Völuspá. 63

as being stingy, so consequently, this was a bad point in one’s personality. Among mankind this was called nið.

The last aspect of the moral life of the Vikings was destiny. Nornir are weaving their destiny threads and are in control of the ‘distribution’ of happiness. But even though the framework of the Vikings’ life was already given, this was no excuse for not leading a morally correct life.

To sum up, this kind of moral or ethics is very different from our concept of the same and it may therefore be difficult to accept the above as moral or ethics. But as we stated earlier this is exactly what is necessary in a society based on the family structure. This kind of moral fitted their life very well, encouraging necessary qualities and discouraging behaviour which could intimidate the family. What has not been mentioned earlier is that achievements and skills also were appreciated, both concepts contributing to your honour and thereby your everlasting reputation114.

6.8 The Runic Alphabet
Traces of the runic alphabet have been found further back than the Viking Age, especially on relics from as early as the middle of the third century. The oldest alphabet from year 1 to around the year 700 had 25 signs and the alphabet of the Viking age 700-800 to 1050 had 16 signs. The main reasons for the change in the alphabet was general language changes. ‘Runerne er en fælles germanskskrift, skabt på grundlag af den alfabet udvikling, der havde fundet sted i middelhavsområdet. Runerne er skrifttegn, men de kunne som andre skriftsystemer også bruges til magisk-religøse fomål.’115 ‘The runes is a common Germanic set of characters, created on the basis of the alphabetical development which had taken place in the

114 115

Jónsson, Finnur 1932 Hávamál stanza 6-50 From the section of runic stones at the National Museum in Copenhagen. 64

Mediterranean. The runes are characters but they can, as others, be used for magical or religious purposes.’116

The runic alphabet has two variants the langkvistruner117 (first line) and the kortkvistruner118 (second line). Some of the letters in the later runic alphabet has more than one sound. The shape of the Runes changed from region to region and from century to century. The Vikings were not the only ones who used the Runic alphabet, but in Teuton tribes as well. Langkvistruner were used mostly when writing epigraphs on stones. Kortkvistruner were faster to write and it is supposed that in trade these were preferred. Not every person was able to read or write runes. We do not have any concrete knowledge of who and how many people were able to read and write the runic alphabet but it is assumed that it was limited to the social class which was educated enough.119 The different inscriptions made on stones, ships weapons etc. were carved into the wood, stones or bones and could be magic formulas, celebrations of dead people, descriptions of raids, episodes, stories etc.120 Some stones with runic epigraphs were placed on specific spots to give passing travellers a direction to a certain place. Stones placed centrally for everyone to see them could also be a celebration of a dead person whose family wanted to honour him. An example from Århus-stenen from around the year 1000; ‘Gunnar og Øgot Aslak og Rolf rejste denne sten efter deres fæle ful. Han fandt døden. . . da konger kæmpede.’ 121 ‘Gunnar and Øgot Aslak and Rolf erected this stone after their kin Ful. He found death. . . when kings fought.’122
116 117 118 119 120 121 122

Our translation. Also referred to as normal runes or Danish runes Also known as the Swedish Norwegian runes Roesdahl, Else & Arnadóttir, Lilja 1992 pg. 162-165 Ibid. pg. 58-60 Horstbøll, H.1988 pg. 51 Our translation. 65

Even though the runic alphabet existed, the normal way to give messages was by word of mouth. Everything from poetry, knowledge about the past to laws was orally presented. They did not write books, this tradition was introduced later with Christianity and when the Latin letters slowly took over.123 Runes were sometimes used by tradesmen, though, after Christian take over.124 It is very likely that only a limited group could afford to have these inscriptions made on e.g. stones, describing their great conquests or dead relatives etc. It was quite expensive to have these made and probably only the upper-class had the

means. As the Vikings communicated their messages orally most of their history was written by Christian people later on. The only original written sources we have are the different inscriptions or epigraphs on stones, bones etc. We have stanzas written in their language and describing different events.

123 124

Meulengracht, P. Sørensen 1990 pg. 8-9 Roesdahl, Else & Arnadóttir, Lilja 1992 pg. 162 66

It is explained in the mythology that Óðinn learned the secret of the runes in a moment of pain. As it is explained in Hávamöl. ‘Veitk at ek hekk vindgameiði á nætr allar níu, geiri undaðr ok gefinn Óðni, sjalfr sjölfum mér, á þeim meiði, es mangi veit, hvers af rótum rinnr. Við hleifi mik sældu né við hornigi; nýstak niðr, namk upp rúnar, Æpandi nam, fellk aptr þaðan.’ ‘I know that I hung from the grandiose tree for nine whole nights, wounded by spear and dedicated to Óðinn, dedicated to myself; few are those who know where that tree has its root. Nobody fed me, nobody moistened my tongue with the horn, I looked down and learnt of the runes, learnt them through screams and drifted back to life.’125 Hávamál stanzas 137-138 Some of the myths from Snorri’s Edda and Codex Regius can be partly recognised in carvings on stones from centuries before. Mythical motifs often appear on stones which we will deal with in the following section.

6.8.1 Stones and Mythology
We have several examples of stones with mythical motifs on them, and the following is a presentation of a few with a description of the motifs. Different interpretations have been made of these stones some see them as signs of the Viking’s belief in the Æsir Religion. Others as symbols which also appear elsewhere in Europe and

Our translation. 67

therefore cannot be signs of a possible belief in the myths. If it is possible to prove that the mythical motifs on the stones were created during the Viking era, it could be a sign of a belief in the myths but then again it is possible that the motifs just illustrate good stories. The question whether the motifs are signs of a belief is an eternal discussion. And if they did not believe in the Æsir Religion, then what did they believe in? The first example is a stone from Gotland. In the bottom there is a Viking ship and in the top a mythical scene. The exact context of the scene cannot be explained but one figure shows, according to the historian Erik Kjersgaard, the horse of Óðinn Sleipnir.126 Another is a runic stone from Tullstorp in Skåne. A column of runes surrounds a motif of a wolf shaped monster and in the bottom there is a Viking ship. Erik Kjersgaard assumes that the monster could be illustrating the Fenrisúlfr.127 The third example is Þórr who battles with Jörmungandr. There are two examples of these motifs. One is found on a stone from Altuna, Uppland in Sweden from around 1000.128 The other is from the church of Hørdum, this stone is more primitive, if one looks at the details in the motif.129 The National Museum of Copenhagen has a section of runic stones. One stone mentions Þórr’s name. This is on a stone from Sønder Kirkeby, Falster. The inscription says:
126 127 128 129

Kjersgaard, Erik 1988 pg. 90 Ibid. pg. 78 Nordisk Ministerråd 1992 pg. 146 Kjersgaard, Erik 1988 pg. 92 68

‘. . . ser satte denne sten efter sin broder As og (han) fandt døden på Godtland. Þórr vie (disse) runer.’130 ‘. . . ser put this stone after his brother As and (he) found death in the country of the Goths. Þórr dedicates (these) runes.’131 In this case the inscription ‘asks’ Þórr to sanctify the runes.

6.9 The Ships
The Viking ship, was a necessity for the Vikings’ way of life as we know it today. The ships were pieces of art and proof of the Vikings supreme technical knowledge. Without the ships the Viking era would not have come out the way it did, the ships played a great part in their merit. The typical Viking ship, which was of great importance for the era, developed from having only oars and rudder to be equipped with sails.

Without the ships the Vikings would not have got as far as they did. It does not matter in what aspects of history we choose to investigate you will always notice the great role that the ships played. In their plundering, their colonisation, their exploration etc. the ships were indispensable in all aspects. We know several different kinds of ships existed but as to how many we are not certain. The Dragon ship, which is one of the most supreme ships, could measure

Translation in the appendix.


50-60 meters in length and have up to 100 oars. The ships contained the necessary equipment and had the shape which fitted the need to which they were built. The ships all had common basis such as: 1. They could be sailed by either oars or sails or both. 2. They had square sail and a side rudder. 3. They were made with wooden nails. It was with difficulties that the big trade ships were sailed with oars. They were all built without any kind of blueprints and one man had the full responsibility.132

6.10 Viking Raids and Settlements
The Vikings travelled great distances to far away countries. If they went to war or on raids they called it ‘to go Viking’133. But they did not only go on raids, they also explored the opportunities for peaceful trade. The Viking expeditions were not only about cruel piracy and war. They went out to trade or to promote the opportunities for trade. Here they sometimes used force to gain control over important routes or markets. The Vikings also migrated to other countries. Some went into foreign military service as military leaders or as regular soldiers. Others settled as pioneers in deserted places such as the islands in the northern Atlantic Ocean. Then again others conquered land to settle amongst strangers. They went out in both small and bigger groups. When the Vikings went out on raids they could be a whole army. The chieftains could gather a large number of ships for a navy. Here the Vikings were so many that they constituted enough to be called an army. These armies have hardly been of more than a couple of thousand men. But they were strong enough to conquer and besiege cities or force the inhabitants to pay a ransom, Danegæld, to avoid plundering and death.

131 132 133

Our translation. Sørensen, Carl Hardig 1990 pg. 31-37 Helmer-Jensen, Ole 1993 pg. 48 70

The question is: How could the people of the Nordic countries shake up Europe as much as they did at the time of the Viking age? Here you have to look at two important factors. The strength of the Nordic people in important areas and the weakness of the rest of Europe. The Vikings were competent in a lot of areas. They had goods that the rest of Europe could use and they had competent leaders who could plan the trade and make the necessary connections. And they were brilliant at building ships which were fast at sea and thereby they had an advantage in trading. But it was as warriors they frightened the rest of Europe. Also in that area they were good. They were very good at using their axes, swords, spears, bows and arrows. They planned and prepared their raids and they were good at leading their men in battle. They could arrive out of nowhere at a coast and spread confusion and fear. If they were met by too strong resistance they were able to get back onboard their ships and sail to another coast. As sailors the Vikings were both good and daring. They were capable of by simple means to find their way across the ocean. They used the sun and the stars and special characteristics on the coasts. In other words, they were good navigators. If the European people had agreed more it would have been harder for the Vikings to go on raids and plunder. Then they would have been met by much stronger resistance. The Europeans were weakened by internal conflicts and the Vikings took advantage of this. Between 300-500 AD the Roman Empire had dissolved. The peace was replaced by disturbance and war. Tribes were moving and so were the borders and new countries arose. Franconia became one of the biggest countries of Europe but in 843 it fell apart. The Eastern part later became Germany and the western part France. Especially the western part was a troubled area so that was an easy pray for the Vikings. Byzantium was another of Europe’s big countries. It was constituted of the old provinces of the Roman Empire. The Emperor ruled over Southeast Europe and


little Asia from the Capital Konstantinopel. Byzantium was Christian but they were against the Catholic church. They were what we today call the Greek-Catholics. Byzantium became a tempting target because of its high culture and great wealth. The British Isles were the nearest target for the Vikings and they were not a strong power. The islands had developed into little kingdoms who were fighting each other. It was not until 954 Kingdoms united under British Crown. Europe was weak and it was against this weakened and divided Europe that the Vikings fought their wars and went on their raids. The end of the Viking age was not so much the sword of Europe. It turned out to be Christianity which we will elaborate on later.


6.10.1 The Goals of Their Journeys





The Vikings travelled great distances. In the West you could meet them in Ireland. 4000 kilometres east from here they sailed on Volga the Russian river. They reached Greenland and North America in the north-west and the middle east in the Southeast. Almost everywhere where there was a coast or a river they went. The Danish, Swedish and Norwegian Vikings each had their own preferred targets which were natural according to the coast they sailed from. The Norwegian coast faced west. From here the Norwegians sailed across the Atlantic and the North Sea to Scotland, Ireland and the islands in the North Atlantic Ocean. The Danes mostly travelled to England and to the coasts of western and southern Europe. The Swedish Vikings went to ‘Østerled’. They sailed across the Baltic Ocean and further down the Russian rivers towards the east and the south to Byzantium and the Middle East. This is of course a generalisation since the Vikings from the three different countries mingled. Sometimes they helped and sometimes they fought each other.

6.10.2 The Raids Towards the West
The most famous raid and the first one that is really talked about is the attack on the Lindisfarne church in England in 793 AD. ‘In 793 ravages of heathen men miserably destroyed Gods church on Lindisfarne with plunder and slaughter’134. Actually there was another Viking attack before that, in the year 789 AD. The representative of the Wessex king, Beaduheard, hurried with a band of men to Portland on the southern English coast to investigate three ships. They thought they were traders but their crews murdered him and his companions. These are records of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. This was the beginning of centuries of Viking attacks. In 795 raiders were recorded near Dublin and in 799 on the south-west coast of France. It started out with small attacks, but soon they started bigger expeditions. In 810 the Danish king Godfred attacked Friesland - now the coast of Holland. The Frisians were demanded to pay tax, Danegæld.


Graham-Campbell, James 1980 pg. 11 77

At that time there already had been a lot of attacks on the British Isles and they intensified and within a short period of time the Norwegian Vikings had conquered the islands north of Scotland and Ireland. Ireland was an easy pray since there was a civil war. The Vikings occupied part of the island and set up marketplaces and encouraged trade. One of the cities which the Vikings founded was Dublin. The Danish Vikings plundered the east coast of England helped by the Norwegian. The attacks became more daring and the goals bigger. In 842 London was plundered. Trying to avoid the plundering the English paid great amounts of silver to the chieftains of the Vikings. It was only a short period of peace though, soon the Vikings were back to demand more silver. From 850 the Danish Vikings began to stay in England during the winter. Now they wanted to conquer as well as plunder and the English could not defend themselves since they could not agree within their own ranks. At the end of the 9th century the Danes got a piece of land in North England which was called Danelagen which meant ‘The land with the Danish law’135. Here the Vikings lived as farmers and set up marketplaces and thereby brought prosperity to the English community. The greatest period in England for the Danes began in 1013. The Viking-king Svend Tveskæg conquered the entire country and got recognised as king. He died shortly after and the English put their own king back on the throne. Svend Tveskægs son Knud returned to England and demanded the English throne back in 1015. When the English king and his son died in 1016 Knud became king. He became one of the great rulers of Europe. At one point he ruled over England, Denmark, Norway and part of Sweden. He was Christian and when he died in 1035 the empire fell apart within a couple of years. After his death he got the nickname Knud the Great. After Emperor Karl the Great in 814 the attacks towards the mainland worsened. In 843 the Norwegian Vikings sailed up the Loire river and plundered the city Nantes.


The cities down the river Seine were also attacked. In 845 the Danish Vikings reached Paris which was conquered and plundered. The king of the Franconians Karl the Bold tried to pay Danegæld but soon the attacks started again. Then the Franconians tried a new method. They rented Vikings to defend themselves. In 911 the Danish or Norwegian Viking-chieftain Rolf or Rollo as he was called in Franconia was given a part of the kingdom. This meant that the country still belonged to the king but Rollo had the right to use and take advantage of it. Rollo got christened and became a French duke under the name Robert. Rollo and his ancestors created a strong power in Franconia, now Normandy, but they integrated into the local community. Rollos great-great grand child was Wilhelm the Conquer. In 1066 he sailed from Franconia to England and conquered the English throne. In Spain the Moors, Arabs, had conquered most of the country. Their beautiful palaces with their great wealth tempted the Vikings. Here they met strong resistance but that did not fright them. In 814 they conquered the Maurich cities Lisbon and Seville which both were plundered. Later they sailed through the Straits of Gibraltar and in the Mediterranean they reached the coasts of North Africa, South France and Italy.

6.10.3 The Raids towards the East
Especially the Swedish Vikings went East. From the Baltic Ocean they sailed down the rivers far into Europe. In to the western part of Russia, they could sail close to the rivers Volga and Dnjepr. Here they dragged their ships across the land to these two rivers and sailed further south. They reached the Caspian Ocean and the Black Sea. From here they sailed to the Middle East where they traded with the Arabs. From the Black Sea they reached Byzantium. The Vikings were not strong enough to plunder here. Instead they traded their merchandise and a lot of Vikings went into the military service for the Emperor in Byzantium.


Helmer-Jensen, Ole 1993 pg. 57 79

One thing is certain: the Vikings did put their mark on this great country in eastern Europe. They were part of the organisation. They increased the trade and created activity at the big marketplaces. A lot of people think that the expeditions towards the east hasdof a more peaceful character than the ones towards the west. In the east there was more trade and lesser plundering. The explanation could be that in these parts there was not that much worth plundering and what was worth plundering was defended strongly. On top of this it seems as the plundering that took place in the east did not get as much attention as that in the west.

6.10.4 Across the Atlantic
The voyages across the Atlantic are amongst the biggest achievements of the Vikings. These voyages were not raids but more of an adventurous nature. The purpose of these voyages was to find new land where they could settle. It was not the wish for wealth that encouraged the Vikings to leave but more the wish for freedom and the need for adventure. Iceland was discovered by a Swedish or Norwegian Viking around 860. During a voyage to the Faroes or the Scottish islands he got out of course and reached instead the great unknown island. Irish monks were living there but except from that the island was uninhabited. During the next ten years the Norwegian Vikings started a migration to Iceland. The Irish monks were soon gone and it became a pure Nordic society. Here the Vikings lived as farmers as they did at home. They kept cattle, they fished and traded and they also went on raids. The Icelandic society was without a king. The laws were made at the Altingi. It was not until 1262 they recognised the Norwegian king. Greenland also got discovered by a coincidence. A ship from Iceland had got out of course. Around 985 the migration to Greenland started. It was the Icelandic Viking Eirik the Red who sailed from Iceland with 25 ships. He reached the south-west coast of Greenland and settled down. Even though the climate was probably warmer than today it was still very cold. The Nordic people in Greenland were under the Danish king from 1380. In 1712 when the King sent an expedition to Greenland the Nordic people had died out.


Around year 1000 a ship from one of the Nordic countries reached a great new land. The saga tells that it was Eirik the Reds son Leif the Happy who made the discovery. The country was called ‘Vínland’ , vín is the old Nordic name for meadow or grass field. It was North America they had reached. There were made more voyages to Vínland but they did not settle in colonies permanently. One of the reasons could be that the native people were hostile. So the Vikings travelled in many places and great distances. Some places they were more successful than others. One thing is certain though. This great people did put a strong mark on the world which can be seen even today.

6.11 Introduction of Christianity
The coming of Christianity in Scandinavia was a gradual process and there was a long period of coexistence between the old religion and the Christian in the Viking world. Many Vikings have said to have believed in Christ and yet made vows to Þórr for sea voyages or in tight spots. Even some of the first Christian missionaries did not attempt to deny the existence of the heathen gods, but reduced them to the role of the demons. The influence of Christianity is both revealed in jewellery and archaeology. In Scandinavia old burial practices gradually changed. Cremation was abandoned, then the burial of grave goods died out. Instead practise of erecting stone monuments, as suitable memorials for the Christian dead, was adopted, both in the British Isles and in Scandinavia. From the beginning of the Viking age Scandinavians had direct contact with Christianity in several ways. Their raids on western Europe led to many Christians being captured as slaves. Of greater influence than the presence of Christian slaves were the contact with the Christian merchants. Heathens wishing to do business with Christians had to receive the cross-mark, prima- signato, which was the first rite of initiation into the Christian church. Many countries around Scandinavia were already Christian. The English and the Germans were among the Christian countries that Scandinavia had a lot of contact with. Christianity have two competitive organisations: The Catholic church which


was lead by the Pope in Rome and the Orthodox church which was lead by the Patriarch in Byzantium. But it was the Catholic church which the Vikings had most contact with, and that was the organisation which was most eager to christen the Nordic heathens. The Catholic church was a big, powerful and rich organisation. The Archbishops and the bishops were very powerful men and they were the ones who sent out missionaries to the Nordic countries to christen the Vikings. So when the Vikings got into contact with Christianity, either on their trade or raids it could only go in one direction: While the Christians were very eager to convert the Vikings, they themselves had no wish to spread their religion. The Vikings faith in the many gods also resulted in them not having difficulty in accepting one more god. Sometimes the Vikings said prayers to both Jesus and the Virgin Mary and to their own gods just to be on the safe side. Already at an early stage the Vikings got the impression that the God of the Christians was strong and powerful. The impressive churches built of stone and the wealth which was to be found in the churches and convents was an expression of power that the Vikings understood. That made them listen to the Christian message. The first missionaries to Scandinavia were active in the eight century in Denmark, but they had little success. A German monk, St. Ansgar was the first successful apostle of Scandinavia. He was sent by the Emperor Louis the Pious on a mission that led him to Hedeby and Birka in 829 or 830, and then again in the middle of the century, but his work had no lasting effect. This is indicated by a number of small crosses from the Birka graves. Ansgar became the first Archbishop of Hamburg, later Hamburg-Bremen. The first Scandinavian country that was officially converted to Christianity was Denmark; ‘King Harald´s boast on the Jelling stone that it was he who had “made the Danes Christian” stands as evidence'136.Harald became Christian around 960-965. King Harald got converted and baptised by the priest Poppo. Today we do not know exactly where Poppo came from, but some think he was sent by the English


church. It is said that Poppo carried an ‘Iron-burden’ to convince the King that Christianity was the right faith. Poppo carried the red-hot iron without his hands getting burned, and the King was convinced. A chronicle written about 968 describes the following: ‘Derved omvendte kongen sig, besluttede at ære Kristus alene som Gud og at byde folk, han herskede over, at forkaste afguderne, og han viste senere præsterne og Guds tjenere den nødvendige agtelse.’137 ‘Thus the king converted, decided to honour Christ alone as God and commanded people, which he ruled, to forsake the heathen gods and later he showed the priests and God’s servants the proper respect.’138 Here they describe how the King decides to only worship Christ and demand his people to do the same and to reject the pagan gods. So Poppo converted King Harald in one way or the other. But that was not the only reason. The Germans were threatening to attack from South. When the King got converted the Christian Germans lost an excuse to attack Jutland. The introduction of the Christianity as the religion of the country also gave the King greater power over the local chieftains. Earlier they had played an important role in the worshipping of the old gods. Now the religious power got transferred to the church and here the King had a lot of influence. But as early as 948 bishoprics had been established at Hedeby, Ribe and Århus. That was because of German missionary bishops sent by Hamburg-Bremen. By the early eleventh century there were also bishops in Odense, Roskilde and Skåne. Their number grew further in the eleventh century, but it was not until 1104 that the first Dane was consecrated as an Archbishop. Only then did the Scandinavian church escape the domination of Hamburg-Bremen.

136 137 138

Graham-Campbell, James 1980 pg. 181. Helmer-Jensen, Ole 1993 pg. 72 Our translation. 83


The first Christian king of Norway was Håkon ‘the Good’, who died in 960. He was a popular and successful ruler, except for his attempt to convert his people. He met such resistance that he relapsed into Æsir Religion before his death. The conversion of Norway was achieved by Olav Tryggvason, 995-1000, and Olaf Haraldsson, 1014-30. They did this by strong force. Olav Tryggvason during his short reign is credited with the conversions of Norway, Orkney, The Faroes, Iceland and Greenland. But a conversion enforced at sword point is unlikely to be effective in the long run, and it was up to Olaf Haraldsson to complete the task. He was killed in battle at Stiklestad in 1030. In Iceland there had been Christians among the early settlers who had been converted in the British Isles. But it was not until the reign of Olav Tryggvason, who first sent a priest of his own and later threatened reprisals when progress was slow, that lasting results were achieved. Iceland came near a civil war on the issue, but they found a compromise to preserve order and peace. The conversion of Iceland was legally enacted at the Altingi, in 999, but certain freedom for practising Æsir Religion was granted. The Icelandic had to be baptised, but in secret they were still allowed to worship the Æsir. Within a few years this freedom was abolished. Missionary Bishops arrived to teach and preach, preparing men for priesthood and consecrating churches. This furthered the progress for Christianity in Island. The first native bishop was Ísleif, son of one of the most influential leaders in the conversion. He was consecrated in 1056. The earliest church in Greenland was built on Eirík the Red’s farm at Brattahlíd in the beginning of the eleventh century. It was built by his wife Thjódhild and the story is that his son was converted on a visit to Olav Tryggvason in Norway. ‘The saga has it that his father Eirík was slow to become a convert, but his wife Thjódhild was soon persuaded, and she had a church built at some distance from the houses. There she and others who had accepted Christianity said their prayers. From the time Thjódhild adopted the faith she refused to have intercourse with Eirík, and this he disliked very much....’139 The first missionaries wanted to get churches built even if they had to do it themselves. The first generations of Christians in Scandinavia built small churches


for household use on their family estates. Even though they must have existed in large numbers, only a handful of excavated examples are known today, together with some fragments surviving as they have been incorporated into later buildings. The conversion of the North to Christianity lies beyond the end of the Viking Age. But then there is no particular moment at which the period can be said to have ended. The Nordic areas had been drawn into a new cultural sphere - that of the Christian European community.

6.12 Conclusion
We have in this part tried to give an overall impression of the Viking society. This has been done in order to show what kind of people they were. A large part of our paper deals with the religion of the Vikings, the Æsir Religion. We have in our ‘definition of religion’ part defined the mythology and the rites as being interconnected. Therefore we have to consider their rites in order to get a picture of how the mythology was used. Our subchapters on the ships and the raids correspond to each other. It was essential for the raids that the ships were of high quality. The narratives of the raids are one of the major factors in our knowledge about the Vikings and are therefore included. The subchapter on the runes is necessary as they are a primary source, original writings from the Viking Age. The use of the runes was a part of their culture and furthermore we know that they might even have been sacred. To enable us to have an educated discussion of how, why and if the myths, as we know them, fitted Viking society we find that this background knowledge is necessary. In ‘The structure of Viking society’ we have tried to show what aspects of life were important in order to understand what questions might have arisen in the minds of the Vikings.

Graham-Campbell, James 1980 pg. 183 86

Some of these questions the Vikings may have tried to answer through their myths. This is, however, only a hypothesis and the following philosophers, psychologists and sociologists all have their own theory about why myths arise and what they are used for.


7. A Philosophical Look upon Myths
7.1 Introduction
In order to obtain knowledge on the nature of the myth and how and why it occurs, we have chosen five philosophers who each have their idea of mythology. First we will present each their theory and then we shall apply it to the Æsir Religion. After having done so we are going to have a thorough discussion of them in order to compare and to find their misinterpretations and what caused them.

7.2 Definition of Religion
Religion is, in our time, a very controversial matter. Not many Danes are significantly religious in the traditional sense and those are a ‘race about to become extinct’, e.g. our grandparents. Because religion is not part of daily life, people tend to think that religious people are wasting their time and their tax money on fatalistic nonsense. A big question is how much of the tax money should be spend on the church and other religious organisations which do not necessarily have anything to do with the Danish Folk Church. Strangely enough though, most Danes are not religious, yet they still pay church tax, even though it is not obligatory. Some of them do so simply because they are too lazy to denounce their faith and some of them because the church is part of the history, the churches look nice in the landscape and to be maintained they need money. Danes tend to be quite sentimental about their national history. Even though they are not religious themselves they feel threatened by new religious sects and foreign religions because ‘one could never be sure of what those kind of people would be capable of doing if they came into possession of nuclear weapons’. This is an image of others often made by ignorant people.


Defining religion is very difficult since everybody has a personal opinion about religion and the use of it. Therefore a broad definition is called for in order to cover all dimensions in most religions, namely the following. Myths: Narratives about the supernatural beings that society worships Mythology: A set of myths. Ethics: A set of guidelines of how to live your life Spiritual society: A society within society which takes care of the spiritual needs of the ordinary society. This is usually done by priests, monks, druids, shamans, etc. Rites: Actions which create a connection between the sacred and the profane. The above categorisation is based upon our ideas of religion and is not copied from any written material. Considering the topic of this project our main focus would be that of the Æsir Religion.

7.2.1 Myths
Bedtime stories for children? Not likely. A myth is a narrative about gods and heroes who were the role models for the archaic society. Furthermore, we can deduct from the myths that certain symbols and actions were sacred to the people believing in it. They are the basis for the entire religion or belief.

7.2.1 Mythology
The mythology is the complete set of myths in a religion. It makes sense of the meta-physical world and, as a natural consequence, the physical as well. The mythology can also be said to be the sphere in which the gods live as explained in the myths.

7.2.2 Ethics
A way of defining moral or ethics is as a set of rules or prescriptions as to how to behave in society. These rules are followed by the people themselves in the society and the rules make sure that the society is not undermined by their own doings, if they are followed. It can also be some higher authority dictating what is right and wrong as explained in various mythologies.

7.2.4 Spiritual Society
In a community where there is a strong influence of mythological dominance there is bound to be someone conveying those messages put forth by the mythology. This is done by shamans, priests, monks etc. according to the specific kind of society. They can also be in charge of rituals and since these are the connection between the mundane and the divine world they can be said to be the medium. A spiritual society would also have some sacred places for common rites. This does not necessarily mean that the individual does not pray to his or her gods in their own sacred places.

7.2.5 Rites
Rites are the link between the very physical world we live in and the sphere in which the gods have chosen to live. They are sacred actions which are used to connect the profane sphere to the sacred, the tools for getting into a state of mind which allows the person to enter a kind of passage or gate to the metaphysical world. In some societies rites are being performed solely for the purpose of pleasing the gods. Other societies pleased their gods for more ‘selfish’ reasons such as good luck, before commencing a hunting trip or for a plentiful harvest. Seen from a sociological point of view, rites also have a social function bringing society together in times of trouble. Some rites were organised by one person, usually the chief or a shaman, whereas the more private rituals were performed by common man. To give some examples we can mention prayer, initiation, e.g. circumcision or the passing from boy to man

and sacrifices. Some rites are performed regularly, others whenever they are needed.

7.2.6 Discussion
A lot is and has been said about religion. In Lademann’s Religionsleksikon we found two definitions of religion as concept made by Sigmund Freud the very famous, and often quoted, psychoanalyst and Karl Marx, sociologist and philosopher. We assume further presentation is superfluous. Freud: ‘Religion is one of Man’s most fatal diseases... These (religious) imaginations which claim to be doctrines, are not products of experiences or results of thinking, they are illusions which fulfil the oldest, strongest and most importunate wishes of Man; their secret’s strength are these importunate wishes strength. We now know that the timid, childish helplessness awoke the demand for protection- protection through love- a need which the father covered- and that the acknowledgement of this helplessness’ further existence through life has caused the mentioned holding on to the existence of a -but now even mightier- father.’140 If the Æsir Religion was actually practised by the Viking society we find this definition unfit, since it refers to a monotheistic belief. As should be evident to anyone with a basic knowledge of Æsir Religion, it had several gods. Furthermore, the gods not only had the function of protecting the believers. The Vikings needed protection from the Children of Loki which we have interpreted as the dark, frightening, inexplicable and unknown of the common unconscious141 but the gods were also worshipped for luck in battle, raids and fertility both concerning harvesting and childbirth. However, we agree so far that the gods were made in the images of what a society needed and wanted them to appear as, and the Nordic gods match very well the cultural values and nature of the Vikings. Marx: ‘The religious misery is both an expression of misery in reality and a protest against it. Religion is the sigh of the distressed creature, the heartbeat of a heartless world and the spirit of spiritless conditions. It is opium for the people. Cancellation of the religion as the imaginary happiness of the people is the demand for its real happiness. The
140 141

Lademanns religionsleksikon pg. 9 Own translation See chapter 7.4.5 Jung and the Æsir Religion 91

demand for giving up the illusions of its conditions is a demand for giving up a condition which needs illusions. The critique of the religion is therefore the seed of the critique of the vale of tears, which halo religion is.’142 This definition is very coloured by what Marx’ preoccupation was. According to Marx religion is invented to seduce people and leave them in a trance, as opium does. It might be true that the happiness religion gives is totally illusionary, but for the Vikings this was the closest they got to explain the world, for them it had nothing to do with illusions at all. Like Mircea Eliade, we think that Marx tends to stick to his own tradition and ignores the ‘primitive Man’s’ experience. A way of distinguishing between humans and the rest of the animals is our ability to imagine the perfect, the ideal and perhaps this is what religion tries to do. Some philosophers think that what distinguishes humans from animals is the fact that humans ask questions. If this is true it would also be the case in earlier societies. An anthropologist may comment that a basic need of knowledge can be observed in both modern and ancient societies. In modern society man is prone to substitute the knowledge religion normally provides, e.g. is there a life after death, how come the sun rises every morning etc., with the ‘faith’ provided by the quasi religion of science. In the nature of our case the Vikings had no science to answer their questions and therefore they needed another institution, namely their religion, for this purpose.

7.3 Sigmund Freud
Sigmund Freud was born in Freiberg, Austria 1856 but moved as a child to Vienna. He was one of the greatest psychologists and neurologists and claimed that human behaviour was driven by sexual desires.


Lademanns religionsleksikon pg. 9. Own translation 92

He was the founder of psychoanalysis and wrote a number of books such as ‘Die Psychologie des 20. Jarhrhunderts’, ‘Zur Psychopathologie des Altagsleben’, ‘Darstellungen der Psychoanalyse’ etc. Freud died in London 1939.143 In the following section we will describe some of Freud’s ideas and theories about myths and the concept of animism. Throughout time humankind has had different ways of interpreting the world around them. Freud separates this process in three parts: 1. The animistic world view (mythological). 2. The religious world view. 3. Scientific world view. We will concentrate on the animistic world view.


Freud, Ernst et al. 1976 pg. 11 93

7.3.1 Animism
Animism, a nature philosophy, is a way of thinking and perceiving the world for primitive people today and in pre-history. In an animistic worldview everything has life, which means that humankind as well as animals and things have a soul. Humankind populates the world with supernatural beings, which can be either perfect or not, good or bad, in order to explain the different phenomenon of nature. According to Freud animism is the precursor to religion, meaning that animism contains the basis on which religion will later develop. The primitive people believe that the soul can go from one body to the other independent from the physical body.144 No superior power had created the supernatural beings. When you wished for something you performed it in a magical act directly pointed to nature. These rituals or magic acts played a great role. Animists expected results and imitated nature to achieve them defending themselves against the beings from the external world through magic.

According to Freud, the motifs for imitating were desires. ‘Man erzeugt den Regen auf magischen Wege, indem man ihn imitiert, etwa auch noch die erzeugenden Wolken oder den Sturm nachahmt.’146 One brings forth the rain in a magical way by imitating it, maybe, in addition, they imitated the clouds or the storm that brought the rain.’147 If a woman was pregnant she could eat certain meat to get the mana from the animal and give it to the child, and, for example, if you wanted to hurt a person you could get hold of a personnel thing belonging to this person and in that way hurt him or her. For the primitive people names were personnel which means that if you knew the name of a being you had the power over this. Through magical acts people created a some kind of a ‘belonging together’ and continuation of life.148
144 145 146 147

Freud, Sigmund 1940 pg. 93-96 Freud, Sigmund 1964 pg. 164-166 Freud, Sigmund 1940 pg. 99 Our translation. 94

Freud claims that the animistic way of thinking is psychological, because it does not need any science to make it rational. This was for primitive people the natural way of thinking. ‘Die Geister und Dämonen sind, wie an andere Stelle angedeutet wurde, nichts als die Projektionen seiner Gefühlsregungen; er macht seine Affektsbesetzungen zu Personen, bevölkert mit ihnen die Welt..’ 149 ‘The ghosts and demons are, as referred to elsewhere, not as the projection of his emotions; he makes his emotional obsessions into persons populating the world with them.’150 Furthermore he says that myths have animistic premises however he underlines that the relation between animism and myths is unclear.151

7.3.2 Myths
In his article ‘Myth, fantasy and reality’ Ole Davidsen, a Danish semiotician, made an interpretation of the article ‘The poet and the fantasies’ written by Freud.152 Freud takes point of departure in the question; from where does the poet get his material? The poet creates, like a child, a fantasy world which is in contrast to reality. The poet keeps these two worlds strictly separated and takes this fantasy world seriously whereas to a child this is a game, the poet is a daydreamer, according to Davidsen. When a child becomes adult he or she stops playing and fantasise instead. The fantasies are hidden by shame and are as the fantasy world of the child created out of desires. Freud claims that it is never the happy people but always the unhappy people who fantasise, meaning that the fantasies arise from unfulfilled desires. The fantasies are individual.

148 149 150 151

Freud, Sigmund 1940 pg. 100-101 Ibid. pg. 112-113 Own translation. Freud, Sigmund 1940 pg. 93-96


Freud separates these fantasies into two kinds, the sexual and the ambitious one which compliment each other. When the fantasies get too much power over the real world a neuroses or psykose can arise153. In order to justify his claim about the poet being a daydreamer, according to Davidsen Freud puts up two categories of people, the ones who loose control over fantasies and the ones who are able to work and develop the fantasies. He makes a further distinction within the latter group; those who create or invent their material and others who take over or inherit material already worked through. One of the things Freud concentrates on in his article is the general guidelines in fictional literature, which typically involves a hero. The hero conquers and survives all dangers. Freud recognises the dreamer’s or poet’s ‘I’ in the hero, i.e. the ‘I’ is the hero in all daydreams and novels, the reader identifies him or herself with the hero. Freud assumes that myths are like the distorted relics of a community’s desire fantasies. ‘We know that in myths the gods are granted the satisfaction of all the desires which human creatures have to renounce, as we have learnt from the case of incest.’ 154 To sum up Freud’s views about myths: The myth is: 1. a distorted and worked through manifestation of fantasies which arises from unfulfilled desires. 2. a fulfilment of a desire. The Man creates a satisfying world, or rather puts the things in their world into a new connection which pleases him. 3. produced by the fantasising Man. The myth is a story about Man.

152 153

‘Religionsvidenskabligt Tidsskrift’ October 1984 no. 5 ‘Davidsen, Ole pg. 38 40


4. alike games and arts, a socially accepted manifestation of fantasies. 5. connected to lust, because it at the same time distorts and generalises the fantasy. 6. the result of a poetical worked trough, or more specifically a linguistic or semiotic treatment of the fantasy.155

7.3.3 Freud and the Æsir Religion
The Æsir Religion contains myths with some animistic aspects. Freud defines animism as a belief, in which everything has life rather than a belief in a specific god. According to the Nordic Myths everything has life, as when Frígg ordered all things not to hurt Baldr except the mistletoe which seemed too young and harmless to be asked. Therefore it can be said to a certain degree to have an animistic world view. These animistic features might however be a leftover from earlier times. The mythical world of the Vikings was populated with spiritual beings, among whom there where the Æsir and Vanir and the children of Loki. The Vikings saw the world they lived in as an island with humankind and gods and a surrounding external world, Jötunheimum with all its dangers. The children of Loki tried to destroy the world of humankind, Miðgarð, as well as the world of the gods, Ásgarðr The Vikings had daily rituals which they performed in order to have a good relation to the gods and receive blessings and good will156. If they did not keep the gods pleased by performing rituals and sacrifices directly pointed at them, the gods might lose interest in defending humankind and bless their doings allowing darker powers to take over. Through these rituals they asked the gods for protection. One such ritual could be observed up until the last century in Norway, where they served Nornir-porridge to please the Nornir whenever a child was born.

154 155 156

Freud, Sigmund 1964 pg. 189 Davidsen, Ole pg. 38-42 See chapter 6.6 Rituals 97

In an animistic world humankind imitates nature in order to achieve fulfilment of their desires, this is as far as we know not the case with the Nordic people and the Æsir Religion. It could seem as if the Æsir Religion was based on a psychological way of thinking, i.e. that it did not need any science to support it. It might have been invented by humankind. The Æsir Religion is as many other religions a way of seeing the world and answering all the questions about life and existence, as humankind imagined the world to be like. As mentioned above the poet gets his material from the fantasies. The creations, or in this case the myths, are invented by humankind’s fantasy and are thereby psychologically affected. Humankind invents stories and mythological persons with whom they can identify. As Freud claims the fantasies are created out of unfulfilled desires and thereby one could say that the myths are stories made to satisfy unhappy people. All his or her desires come through via the imagination. Humankind creates a satisfying world with the answers to life and existence in general that they find suitable. According to Freud humankind gives the mythical persons abilities and skills which humankind have to renounce and they look like people want them to look like. They create the gods and the demons that they need. They create evil spiritual beings to explain the natural catastrophes and gods to get help, to explain why it rains etc.

7.3.4 Comments on Freud
A compliment to Freud could be that he is one of the few who actually tries to examine what goes on in the mind of those who create myths, instead of explaining it through archetypes etc. For example experiencing a tree in one’s dream or during trance is, according to Freud, an indicator of something sexual - a phallus, and the dream would have a relation to your sexual drives. This seems to be typical for Freud, he explains most psychological disturbances as sexual frustrations. This theory is very pessimistic as it claims that society, when creating and believing in myths, is frustrated. His theory also presupposes that the myths originate from fantasies and not from real events.


Freud does not deal with mythology as much as fantasies. Today we have a need to explain nature and this we do through science. Freud could probably argue that the Vikings had an unfulfilled wish for explaining their world and therefore myths were created. His theory, for us, kick-started a line of thoughts, not that we agree but the idea was inspiring. We shall expand on this later.

7.4 Carl Gustav Jung
A very important figure in the interpretation of religion and myths is Carl Gustav Jung 1875-1961, a professor in medical psychology. He was the one who brought forth the ideas of humankind having a common unconscious and archetypes. Jung explains that the human mind consists of three parts: 1. The conscious; the Ego and the Persona 2. The personal unconscious; Shadow, the Animus and Anima 3. The common unconscious; traces left from previous stages of development and the archetypes. The conscious is what a person is spontaneously aware of. The shadow is called the negative part of the personality and the Anima is the personification of the male’s inner femininity and the Animus is the woman’s inner masculinity. ‘In dreams and myths, the Anima can be symbolised in various forms, e.g. a priestess, an old witch, a beautiful woman, a goddess, female demon of death etc. The Anima can be regarded as a guide to the inner world.’ 157 The same is the case with the Animus. We want to concentrate more on the common unconscious as it is more relevant to this project. ‘The common unconscious is a huge spiritual inheritance from the human development and here we find the archetypes which are often manifested in myths, fantasies, dreams etc.’158 Thus, common unconscious means that deep in our minds we all have, though we seem totally different, significantly similar archetypes - symbols and figures. These
157 158

HIB1 1993 pg. 71 Pedersen, Ole 1987 pg. 77 99

archetypes are for example strong heroes, such as Þórr, but also a figure who has both good and bad qualities like, for example, Loki. The tree of life, in this case Yggdrasil is very often found in myths. The manifestation of the archetypes vary from each culture and era but most common they keep the same basic pattern. According to Jung’s theory there is a relationship between instincts and archetypes. These archetypes are constantly active and of a positive function which is that they connect the human conscious with its instincts. The myths consist of an imaginative language whose symbols cannot be translated intellectually but symbolically. They indirectly remind Man of his origin and Jung thought that the biggest problem of humankind today is their loss of contact to the original mind. In ancient times these phenomena were not questioned and in this way the common unconscious was expressed.

7.4.1 The Father
According to Jung159 the power of one’s father originates from his personification of the fatherly archetype. It is also the common archetype of the male Self in all its aspects160. It is the symbol of possibilities coming from the future, hinting vital powers considering the conscious spirit. The Father or the Wise Old Man can be a sign of superiority and wisdom which the individual wants to obtain. The archetype awakes the energy resources in the unconscious and is a source of inspiration, insight and resolution, and gives advice. As archetype the father represents the authority; the ruler, the legislator and -orthe protector. The archetype often occurs as a king, an elderly or heavenly father, or as the Heaven, the Sun, a weapon or a phallic figure.

7.4.2 The Mother
Like the Father-archetype the Mother-archetype also has both positive and negative sides, human and non human sides. E.g. it can be a friendly mother, grandmother or aunt. It can also be a cave, a garden - signifying the motherly womb, or a church

159 160

Mystikkens Verden 1992 pg. 85 Chetwynd, Tom 1983 pg. 33 100

- again signifying a peaceful and secure place. These images are united with a motherly care and sympathy, growth, nursing and fertility. The negative sides of the mother-archetype can be a witch, a dragon or a shark, or stand for everything which is destructive and hateful, secret, dark or hidden, and everything which seduces, poisons and engulfs.

7.4.3 The Hero
For a man the Hero is the symbol of his own ego, for a woman a symbol of her Animus161, but also a symbol of the conscious ego fighting the urges of the unconscious. The heroic self can occur in a young man’s dreams and fantasies in order to give him confidence in his own strength. Common for all cultures is the myth of the Hero.162 Often the Hero is born poor, and achieves his status as he struggles his way up through poverty and hardship and thereby learns the hard lessons of life. The Hero shows supernatural powers and skills and fights against evil in triumph.

7.4.4 The Shadow
The Shadow is an instinct character-like figure. It is the neglected sides of the individual, which have never been allowed to develop properly, sides which have been counteracted, aspects which have never been acknowledged. We reject the Shadow because it generally is the total opposite of how we normally perceive ourselves and want others to perceive us. To take an example, Dr Jekyll had Mr. Hyde as shadow. We cannot unite contradicting images of ourselves, and therefore we choose to develop the sides we like best and want others to know us by.

Religious symbols have a significant revelation like character, which means that they usually are spontaneous results of the unconscious activity. Religious symbols come from a depth within which is very unlike the consciousness, which in only

Ibid. pg. 127


superficial. Experience shows that religion in no way are conscious ideas, but originate from the unconscious. That explains the universal magnitude and enormous influence of religion on mankind. This could not be evident if the religious symbols had at least not been natural truths of the psyche. Religion is dependence and submission to irrational facts which not directly refers to social conditions, but more to the individual’s psychological attitude, which is contrary to Dürkheim’s163 theory. Religion creates a possibility to be reserved towards the obvious and unavoidable force from the outer conditions, which anyone who only live in the conscious world is submitted to. Religion teaches about another authority which is opposite the secular. Most religions are complicated preparations to death; religion has no other meaning than to prepare the final goal: Death. Religion therefore also has the purpose for people to believe in life after death. The belonging to a certain religion is not merely of a religious concern but also of a social. Jung says that the true value of the myth is placed more in its value than in its truth. This means that even though the myth is built upon archetypes and contains universally recognisable human patterns, it is very much up to the person who believes in the myth to interpret it according to his personal assumptions such as for example quality of life.

7.4.5 Jung and the Æsir Religion
If C.G. Jung is right, one could say that the mightiest god in the Æsir Religion, Óðinn, is a representative of the archetype of the father. Óðinn was the father of most of the gods in Ásgarðr, and he was both ruler, legislator and protector for the people in Miðgarð and the inhabitants of Ásgarðr. But the Father-archetype does not only assume positive shapes; negatively it can also indicate suppression and destructive abilities, which Óðinn also possesses as he is so powerful that he is beyond good and evil164. The mother figure can be connected with the fertility and love goddess, Freyja, and Frígg, the mother of some of the main gods and Óðinn's wife. The connection is vague, though, at least for Freyja’s part, since Freyr who is a male god, is the main
162 163

Mystikkens Verden 1992 pg. 93 See chapter 7.6.1 The Social Foundations of Religion


fertility god in the Æsir Religion. His function is to fertilise the soil, he literally had sexual intercourse with it. Freyr is the twin brother of Freyja and her male parallel. Originally, Frígg was the Mother Earth but her character has throughout time become less significant. The negative sides of the mother archetype are connectable with the goddess of Niflheimur, Hel. She is the goddess of hunger and starvation and the image of her is horrifying. Her residence is hidden in the underworld and the fact that it is in the darkness, supports Jung’s theory. In the Æsir Religion Þórr could be seen as the archetype for the Hero, as he physically is the strongest of the gods. Some of the newer interpretations of the Æsir Religion have put the image upon Þórr that he should be less intelligent. We, however, find this statement vague as we have not found anything which could indicate this. It could, though, according to Jung’s theory, be striking, since Óðinn could symbolise the male intelligence and Þórr the raw power of men. Though the hero often dies after the battle, as we see it with Þórr in his fight with Jörmungandr in Ragnarökrs: he kills it but after the Jörmungandr is dead it belches forth its poison on Þórr and he dies. It is extremely difficult to acknowledge unwanted and unknown sides and therefore we assume that it was people’s way of projecting their negative sides out by creating the figure Loki, the shadow and trickster. We see Loki as the personification of 'the other side', because he contains many different aspects; both good and bad qualities, he is both man and woman, and something in between. Today many end up on the psychiatrists couch because they have difficulties in accepting their respective anima and animus.

7.4.6 Comments on Jung
Looking at Jung’s theories of archetypes they fit very well with the myths of the Æsir Religion, but then again, they would to any bedtime story. This is because his


See chapter 4.1.1 Óðinn. 103

statements are very general. However, his theories form a foundation for the further refinement of the basic tool that the archetypal idea is.

7.5 Joseph Campbell
Joseph Campbell, born 1904, Professor Emeritus at Sarah Lawrence College, until his death in 1987. Editor and author of a myriad of books on mythology. This one, his last, is a collection of lectures.

7.5.1 The Myth
Campbell's understanding of myths builds on Adolf Bastian (1826 - 1905) and C.G. Jung (1875 - 1916). He is of the opinion that myths and dreams have the same, psycho-physiological, source, and that as dreams are to the individual, myths are to the community. A dream is a personal experience of the deep dark space beneath the consciousness, whilst a myth is the dream of a society. The myth is the dream of a people and a dream is a private myth. The space we enter during sleep Campbell calls the 'childish unconscious', a storage of 'basic' ritual mythological and visionary images. He says that human life, in history and in myth, is enriched by the visions, ideas and inspirations which are bought back from the dream world, from the inexhaustible source through which a society is reborn. Bastian, on seeing that certain mythic motifs are found all over the world, developed the idea of 'Elementargedanken' designating as 'Völkergedanken'; that is to say that the same basic concepts appear world-wide with relatively small, local, variations. Jung calls these symbols 'archetypes of the collective unconscious', the subtle difference lying in a transference from the analytical realm of rationality, to the obscure subliminal abysm from which dreams arise. Campbell adds that mythology is not so much a projection of the brain as an experience of the heart, not an idea but rather an intuition. More than just a symbol, the archetype is an artistic metaphor, and this metaphor tells us about the relationship between the archetype and the collective unconscious.


These religious insights are organised through verbal narratives, be they scriptural or oral, and through visual art. They are applied to communal life in the form of rites and rituals, pedagogic initiations, calendars and the likes, through which the community finds its place in the universe as religious insight permeates daily life. On the more mundane level, the individuals place in society is decided, as is the community's relationship to its neighbours. Emphasising that at a purely biological level, we have changed very little for some 40.000 years, Campbell isolates three primal compulsions which are fundamental to humankind and therefore also to myth. They are the compulsions: 1. To devour. All animals exist by feeding on other living organisms. Life is able to exist only by the death of other life. 2. To reproduce. Here the species talks - with urgency! 3. To possess. Unlike the two previous compulsions, this one is not a purely bioengeric command, to feed upon and consume, but an impulse ‘launched from the eyes, not to consume, but to possess.’ It is lust for something you do not have (but somebody else does) and at a macro level has been an extensive propagator of action throughout history, explaining for example the Viking's urge to plunder, but also the effect ads have on us. Along with other higher mammals, humankind also possess a very strong impulse of mercy which is not limited to the tribe, or even the species, but extends to cover all life. This impulse clashes with the compulsion to plunder, and Campbell says that the first concern of an elder or priest is to decide when to show mercy, and when not to.

7.5.2 Metaphors
The risk of the religious insight myths and rituals contain going lost, and local symbols instead becoming the main focus, is great. When a religion goes stale rituals and symbols become the main focus, and the 'religion' ethnic, or bound to a specific culture. The symbols are misunderstood if we take them at face value, instead of the metaphors they are - that is, if we read poetic metaphors prosaically.

Meaning that if we read a myth like a factual text instead of the poetry it actually is, we get it wrong. Thus a religion and its symbols have the function only of maintaining the status quo. In contrast, the authentic mystic or artist unveils the divine through metaphors. The title of this book ‘The Inner Reaches of Outer Space’, seemingly far out, is an ironic comment to Campbell's obsession with metaphors. What he means is that when describing the divine we grab for metaphors. One key metaphor is that of space. That religion is a projection, into the outer world, something happening in the inner world of the individual. The only way we can describe an inner experience is in metaphors, or symbols, that belong in the 'real' world. ‘The imagery is necessarily physical and thus apparently of outer space. The inherent connotation is always, however, psychological and metaphysical, which is to say, of inner space.’ 165 An example would be the journey of a shaman to the other world which should not be understood as a physical reality, but as the journey of the mystic into the realms of his or her unconscious, which is at once individual, local and universal. The divine is thus interpreted by the individual on terms that are decided not only by his or her personality, but also the culture in which he or she lives.

7.5.3 Campbell and the Æsir Religion
Not only should we see archetypes as metaphors or clarifications of certain vague ideas, whole 'other worlds' can also be seen as complex metaphors. Askr Yggdrasil, for example, is an archetype paroled by the cosmic or world tree found e.g. in Siberia, India - a fig tree - and the 'pollen path' of certain aboriginal Americans. It is at once simple and incredibly complex. The Navaho people use a corn stalk to symbolise their axis mundi. On top perches a blue bird, like the eagle and hawk on Yggdrasil. At the bottom a serpent, like Niðhögg. Campbell sees the bird as a symbol of spirit and spiritual flight, serpents and dragons, in contrast, as of the earth, its dynamism, urges and demonic wisdom166.
Campbell, Joseph 1986 pg. 31 Other mythological birds are the 'hamsa', geese that symbolise the 'atman' or self in Indian mythology, Jesus at the moment of baptism seeing a dove, or Zeus seducing Leda in
165 166


The Navaho corn stalk, like Yggdrasil, has three life giving roots167 which together, in the trunk, create a balance. The rainbow, another shared symbol, is matter and energy at the same time and as such a bridge between the realm of man and the realm of Gods. So on one level, we find a universal idea, the bird or serpent, with various different local interpretations, and this seems identical with the ideas of Jung or Bastian. Campbell would add that this archetype is really a metaphor - the spirit travelling is visualised in the mind of the mystic as a bird. The bird is a metaphor the mystic uses to describe an experience unlike anything worldly. This one example illustrates Campbell's point - the complexity of the Vikings cosmology is made readily understandable by a simple metaphor. The tree itself can stand alone or be seen as an intricate interaction of concepts like the dragon, the birds and its roots. The mystic - the völva - would use a culturally predetermined idea (the tree) to map out her mind. The metaphor is the mystic's practical tool. In this way, she would frame herself in the universe. If the mystic is the community's spiritual authority, she would also be responsible for defining the community's role in the world and the universe. Campbell says the first concern of an elder or priest is to determine whom to plunder, and whom not to. In the 'other' Edda we have a good example of this. While Campbell acknowledges the social function of the myth, he is wary of a general tendency to forget the most significant part - the divine - and instead to use religion to preserve power. To what extent this had happened to the Vikings 800 1050 we can only guess, but the ease with which Christianity conquered the North is quite telling.

the shape of a swan. Serpents occur in Australian mythology, powerful in the creation of the world, as dragons in Chinese mythology, snakes for the Jivaro, in African myths and legends, Egyptian, Fijian, Celtic, Christian and Greek. 167 And for example Yuktatriveni in the muladhara - 'proper’ breathing and also the three mythological rivers of India. 107

7.5.4 Comments on Campbell
Campbell builds on Jung’s theories of the archetypes but adds that the priest or artist creates an artistic metaphor of the archetype. He gives the myth a sociological function in that it frames the community in accordance to the Universe. His theories imply that there is one divine source of myth and art. This presupposes the divine. Simultaneously the three primal compulsions are also the social functions of the myth. A criticism to Campbell is that he, as Jung, speaks very generally. It is possible to fit all myths known to us into his theory and therefore we find that his theory is vague. However, it may be the case that he simply found the theory about myths. We find that the theory about the common unconscious needs some elaboration. An explanation of why the archetypal symbols are exactly what they are would be useful. This, however, goes for all the theories presented in this report.

7.6 Émile Dürkheim
Émile Dürkheim (1858-1917) a French professor in pedagogic and sociology, established sociology as an academic subject.

7.6.1 The Social Foundations of Religion
All religious thought divides the known and knowable world into two parts, the sacred and the profane. A church, for example, is sacred, while a sports hall is not. Dürkheim says this is an either/or situation with no in-betweens. All beliefs, dogmas and legends are representations or systems of representation which express the nature of sacred things, the powers attributed to them or their relationship to each other and to profane things. These two classes exclude each other and are absolute opposites. Unlike other opposites, for example good and evil which are two sides of one coin, namely morality, the profane and sacred are incomparable and have paradigms of their own. Sacred things are superior to profane in dignity and power, and furthermore the realm of the sacred contains an internal hierarchy making some things more sacred than others. An amulet would provoke less awe than a deity, although both are approachable by the religious person. We can ‘force’ a god through prayer, ritual


or sacrifice, in fact a god vanishes without such adoration, but these worlds have absolutely nothing in common, and cannot approach each other without compromising their own nature . Experience always has its foundation in reality in one way or the other, and as religious belief rests on (spiritual) experience, like science, it is not inferior to science though radically different. This profane reality does not, however, always conform objectively to the idea believers have of it. The fact that many mythologies exist confirms this - all experience the same divinity in a multitude of ways, and as such none are totally adequate. ‘. . . this reality, which mythologies have represented under so many different forms but which is the universal and eternal objective cause of these sensations sui generis out of which religious experience is made, society.’168 Dürkheim is talking about what Bastian would call Völkergedanken i.e. the same divine experience being interpreted ethnically or locally. Dürkheim states that religion is an eminently collective thing. He says it is active co-operation as a society can only make its influence felt through action, and only be in action if the individuals are unified and act together. Through action a society becomes self aware and realises its position in the universe. ‘The idea of society is the soul of religion’169 He goes as far as to say society and social institution are born in religion. This is because human have the ability to idealise. We alone can conceive the ideal, and substitute the real world with another by transferring ourselves through thought. Idealisation is not a luxury but a condition of existence we could not be social beings without. Society is imperfect and even cruel, but all religions strive for utopia. Religion must on the other hand mirror the society it functions in, and the imperfections of this society, as we see in Gods of war or theft, and in Christianity in the devil. However, evil is always inferior to good, so life maintains itself and even improves.

168 169

Robertson, Roland 1969 42-54. Ibid. 42-54. 109

The ideal society is not outside reality, but part each individual in a society interpret and fashions the idea and in the individual personality it becomes autonomous, just as mythological thought, once born, in the same way creates its own world and laws, so the manifestation of thought need not be practical the pleasure of self confirmation being enough.

7.6.2 Comments on Dürkheim.
Dürkheim’s theory is unlike the other theorists we have investigated in that it deals with the relationship between religion and society in general and not with specific parts of a religion like myth, rite, archetype or ritual. He deals more with the sociological aspect of religion. It would be easier to apply Dürkheim’s theories to the Æsir Religion if he had defined ‘religion’ and ‘society’ more clearly. As it is, his theories can be interpreted very broadly, and applied from just as broad a point of view. Dürkheim has very strong opinions and a lot of his statements presuppose many things, for example that gods exist only in the mind of the believer. He explains that the gods would vanish without the adoration of Mankind meaning that we create the gods and spiritual beings we need. There are two ways of understanding this statement. The first implies the possibility that these beings are born of the imagination and needs of a people, if they stop believing in them they simply cease to exist. The second interpretation is that the divine exists everywhere and that Man ‘grabs’ a piece of this divinity and gives it the name of a god and desirable abilities and skills. These gods fulfil the wants of the people who adore them, but without this adoration the gods disappear back into the divine mass. In this way god would be a manifestation of the divine. Even though we do not know enough about Dürkheim to say for sure which one of these interpretations he would think was true, we believe the first to be the most likely. Dürkheim says that the sacred is more dignified than the profane. We could easily apply this not only on the Æsir Religion as we find it self evident for any religion

that the sacred is valued higher than the profane. A Þórr’ s Hammer would probably be valued higher than a table spoon.

7.7 Mircea Eliade
Mircea Eliade who is half Rumanian half American, was born in 1907 and passed away in 1986. He was a lecturer in the Ecole - Ètudes of the Sorbonne, and was thereafter chairman of the department of history of religions at the University of Chicago. He finds that the Western world’s philosophy is endangered because of its tendencies of provincialism, meaning that it 1. solely uses its own tradition and ignores e.g. Oriental way of thought and problem solving. 2. persists, stubbornly, only to acknowledge situations known to people of the historical cultures, with no regard to the ‘primitive’ man’s experience. (Cultures of tradition.) He is interested in Archaic ontology, which are thoughts about ‘being’ and ‘reality’. He believes that these can be deducted from human behaviour in early societies. An important thing to note about Eliade is, as he explains it in the preface to ‘The myth of the eternal return’, that when he uses the word ‘archetype’ or variations of that word, it is not meant in the Jungian sense but as ‘exemplary model’. Eliade had no intention of going into depth with psychology. We decided not to change his vocabulary in order not to lose some meaning. That means that when we are discussing Eliade in this chapter, our meaning of the word is the same as his originally was.

7.7.1 Sacred Objects and Places.
Symbols, myths and rites show in different levels and each in their own way, a complex system of ‘visions’ about the ‘super reality’, the metaphysical reality. It is Eliade’s theory that when you work your way into the authentic meaning of an


archaic myth or symbol, you shall find that it is mankind’s position in cosmos which is visualised, and thus its metaphysical position. According to the archaic mentality, an object or the action of humans do not contain an independent internal value. An object is sanctified because its shape shows a kind of relationship to a certain symbol, or because it is hierophanic, that is to say that it has mana170. An action can also be either hierophanic or represent the memory of a mythical action. The object or the action is a container of a power coming from the outside as opposed to having its own internal power. The objects’ reality and identity was acknowledged according to its degree of transcendence of meta-reality.

7.7.2 Sacred Actions
Sacred human actions are repetition, reproduction of an archetypal action. According to Eliade archaic people thought that what they were doing had already been done by a super human, in-human. Their lives were eternal repetitions of actions instituted by ‘others’. An action was rationalised and realised according to how much it reflects a primordial action. Eliade argues that all actions which have a definite purpose are sacred or, at least, partly sacred. Profane actions are those which lack exemplary models. Thus all actions with a purpose are rituals. When an action has been repeated many times, it is done ever more incorrectly. This is why archaic people need their rites. Once a year they have a ceremony


The sacred power that an object or action posses. 112

where they renew a ritual, doing it the right way as close to the primordial action, and thereby people are taught the sacredness of that particular action once again. ‘When possession is taken of territory -that is, when its exploitation begins- rites are performed that symbolically repeat the act of creation: the uncultivated zone is first ‘cosmicised’, then inhabited.’171 This is the repetition of the primordial act. Chaos is turned into cosmos by the divine act of creation.

7.7.3 Construction Rites
Nothing can endure if it is not ‘animated’, through a sacrifice endowed with a ‘soul’. The prototype of the construction is that of the world’s. In some archaic cosmogonies, the world was given existence through a cosmic giant. To assure the reality and the enduring of a construction, there is a repetition of the divine act. For the Archaic person his own surroundings, his world, was cosmogonic, whereas the surrounding areas, not possessed by his people was chaotic. By taking in these chaotic areas they were cosmicised. The taking in of the land was not thought of as profane work. It was considered a repetition of a celestial, archetypal action. An initiation rite. The ‘new world’ is always a reproduction of the celestial, archetypal world.

7.7.4 The Symbolism of the Centre
Archaic belief about the centre: 1. The sacred mountain, where heaven and earth meet. This is situated in the centre of the world. 2. Every temple or palace (sacred places) is a sacred mountain, thus becoming a centre. 3. Being an Axis Mundi, the sacred city or temple (place) is regarded as the meeting point of heaven, earth and hell.


Eliade, Mircea 1989 pg. 9-10. 113

A religious person needs a centre in order for him or her to orient themselves from somewhere. This centre is sacred for a religious person, because it provides him or her with a special feeling. Since the centre appears through a hierophany it is therefore not just a geometric indication, it also reveals a super reality which provides the experiencing person with ontological arguments. A non religious person, on the contrary, experiences space as homogenous and neutral. There are no qualitative differences. For a non religious person it does not mean anything to enter a sacred place, such as a temple, whereas for the religious person, a temple is a sacred place, the gate to heaven.

7.7.5 Sacred and Profane time
For the religious person both sacred and profane time exists. Sacred time is the period where a ritual or a sacred action takes place. The sacred actions are, as mentioned above, repetitions of celestial, archetypal actions. Not only the actions are considered a repetition, also the time of the specific sacred action is repeated. The sacred time is only present when the connected action is being done. Whenever you perform a ritual, you bring forward the mythical time, the time of the archetypal act. Thus, the profane time is the periods for a religious person when a non religious action takes place.

7.7.6 The Year
For Archaic Man the world renewed itself every year. The year was cyclic, in the sense that it was reborn in a pure, sacred form. The Archaic people did not see e.g. spring as something inevitable, they had to make sure that it would arrive through rites. There is cosmogonic time which is the archetypal time for corresponding earthly times which is connected with a certain celestial archetypal event or action, and without these, the archetypal time cannot exist. ‘Cosmogonic time occurs with the first appearance of a new category of existing. This is why the myth plays such a big part; it reveals how a reality has reached existence.’172

Eliade, Mircea 1993 pg. 54. Our translation. 114

Therefore rites are not feasts of mythical remembrance but actions that bring forth the mythical action and time itself.

7.7.7 Myths
Myths are sacred narratives about primordial actions and objects. The myths are revealed to Man, and therefore they are ultimately true. The myths concern ‘creating’, the first time something was done and how it started ‘being’. The myth deals with primordial realities which archaic Man tried to repeat in his actions and rites.

7.7.8 Eliade and the Æsir Religion
Looking at Eliade’s theories of archaic people and their belief, we find that it fits very well with the Æsir Religion. In his books ‘The myth of the eternal return’ and ‘The sacred and the profane’ he deals with different kinds of primordial actions, all of which are recognisable in the Æsir Religion. In the ‘Sacred objects and places’ part we discuss the mana, the sacredness of an object or a place. A sacred place for the Vikings would be where they had their common rites. The rite itself also possessed this mana. The sacredness in a place or object, Eliade argues, is acknowledged in so far it reflects the primordial. The sacred places of the Vikings were of this kind. It could be by a stone with a special shape which sanctified it, or some stones put out in the shape of a ship which represented the archetype, the primordial of a such, a tree shaped in a strange way, having a ‘face’ etc. Eliade also discusses the sacred action, being an action that repeats the primordial action. For example he mentions the duel between Þórr and a Jötna called Hrungnir, who provoked Þórr. Þórr, naturally, won the combat. This is the archetype of all combats and wars. According to Eliade’s theory these are then rituals for the archaic people. This is of course not the only













intercourse173, which is the archetype for all sex.

Another common trait in archaic myths is that of a cosmic Jötna creating the world. In Æsir Religion we have Ymir, who Synir Bors kill and creates the world from. When the Vikings colonised new areas, Eliade argues, they regarded the cultivating of the area as a repetition of the primordial act of transforming chaos into cosmos. This might be the case but we have not, during our process, discovered any proofs of the fact that they saw their Landnamme as sacred. The Centre belief, though, we recognise in the Æsir Religion. We both have Askr Yggdrasil, which for the Vikings symbolised the centre of their world and therefore was sacred to them, and we have Bifröst which is the bridge between Miðgarð and Ásgarðr, the world of the humans and the Gods. We have no sources speaking of the concept of a year as such, but we know that the Vikings repeated their rites, as ceremonies, once a year which makes it probable for us that the year for the Viking was sacred, even though the Vikings might not have had a calendar of our kind. We do not know, though, whether the Vikings thought that the world was reborn once a year, as Eliade argues.


Mikkelsen, Jonhard 1993 pg. 97 116

7.7.8 Comments To Eliade
We do not find the idea of the repetition of the primordial act usable as we do not think the Vikings were conscious of the sacredness of many actions in their everyday life. Although an annual ritual must have had a sacred purpose we believe ‘out of sight, out of mind’. As for the rest of Eliade’s theory we have little to criticise.

7.8 Discussion of the Theories
A way of explaining why people believe in the divine is through the use of the common unconscious, an idea most of our theorists have accepted as an axiom. One could, however, argue that the belief in the divine is a way of rationalising the world. This results in the creation of mythical figures which reflect the human psyche. However, we believe that this explanation might be something we choose to believe in because we need to rationalise everything. Metaphors are used to explain the supernatural. This is necessary as we do not have an exact knowledge about the divine and therefore we lack the vocabulary. It is dangerous to try to mix the sacred and profane worlds by labelling the divine. In fact, how can you ever depict something that is purely spiritual? A natural solution for us would be to choose metaphors with which we are familiar and find powerful, like the tree which invokes awe. Furthermore, familiar things are much more likely to be accepted as general metaphors than fictional ones. Language is a way of communicating which presupposes that both sender and receiver use the same code. If you experience the divine you may need to invent a new phrase which covers that particular experience. The drawback of this is that it has a very limited audience until you start to explain the phrase by the use of regular metaphors. The ultimate way of communicating a divine experience is with the mind. This is as far as some of us believe not possible, and this is why people opt for metaphors. The manifestations of archetypes such as the Mother, the Father and the Shadow are, according to our theorists, culturally determined but one can argue that archetypes themselves are culturally determined as they seem very basic. Throughout childhood your mother and father mean the whole world to you. Even if you do not have parents yourself you can still relate to this ‘institution’ as you


would have other figures representing the same. Thus these two figures become essential from birth and they may remain like this unconsciously. This is also the reason why the Father and the Mother archetypes are universal. The archetype of the Shadow is also very close to human nature because it reflects our darker sides. The same can be said about the Tree, which could be a leftover from the animistic world view. In our discussion we have sought an explanation for the tree being a universal symbol. The reason may be because of its majestic appearance, just think of an ancient oak. Take it one step further and think of all the weird and wonderful shapes the trees have as you walk through a forest at dusk. You can always find familiar shapes in the features of a tree, be it that of a face, making a personification easier. On the other hand perhaps it is too easy to explain the striking similarities between for example Yggdrasil and the Navaho cornstalk.174 The fact that they both have three roots, a bird sitting on top of them and a dragon and a squirrel gnawing the roots of the tree is hard to explain by cultural inheritance. This would imply that our culture has changed very little for some twenty thousand years. Some of us believe that the archetypes such as the tree originate from the common unconscious as Jung describes it, meaning that we acknowledge the existence of the common unconscious from birth. This could be explained by the theory of us having one ancestor. As we are eight individuals in our group, with different opinions and different backgrounds, we can never agree to the existence and the content of the common unconscious. There are some who believe that archetypes are hereditary and that the manifestations are local while others think both archetypes and manifestations are culturally determined or even are the relics of an ancient common religion. Then some just do not know what to believe. We do agree on one thing, though, that the manifestations reflect the culture in which they arise. The Æsir Religion is no exception. Although parts of these narratives might have evolved from the earlier Bronze Age, they are valid in that they are the cultural and moral heritage of the Norse.


See chapter 7.5.3 Campbell and the Æsir Religion 118

If it is true that humankind creates the myths it would be natural for them to create the gods in their own image thus reflecting the different sides of their society. Metaphors are used when explaining the divine and other supernatural occurrences. The most common things used as metaphors are those surrounding people in their daily life. We will expand on this in the following discussion.

7.9 The Æsir Religion
The relationship between the Jötun and the Æsir can be seen as a metaphorical reflection of Viking society. A main theme throughout many of the myths, as we know them from Snorri’s Edda and Codex Regius, is the luring and beating up of the Jötun by the Æsir, in most cases by Þórr. This could be seen as a metaphor for raids, the whole relationship between the Jötun and the Æsir reflecting that of the Vikings and the surrounding societies. When the Æsir needed some hard work done they often brought in a jötna to do it, only to trick him from getting his pay afterwards. This could be seen as taking thralls or even as a justification for fooling people from outside the society. As Loki is the downfall of the world of the gods, it shows how dangerous it can be to let a foreigner infiltrate your society or even worse let a thrall rise to power. When Óðinn makes Loki, a jötna, his foster brother and thus accepts him in the godly ranks of the Æsir, the rest of the Gods accept this, which can be seen as the symbol of power the chief has within Viking society. The competitions seen in several of the myths show that the Gods are very competitive. Indicating that the Vikings are competitive as well. Another main theme in many of the myths is the boasting by the Gods of their feats. This could be an indicator that it was important for the Vikings to excel in life and they therefore boasted a lot. Or it could be the reverse; the Vikings projected their own behaviour on the myths. The institution of marriage between the gods is definitely not as we know it today, as adultery is seen frequently by both sexes and they did not consider it morally wrong. If this reflects the society of the Vikings they had a much more liberal view


upon adultery. These tendencies are just as usual in our society but considered morally wrong. We will shortly analyse some of the myths from Codex Regius to try to find the main themes, to find out the moral of the Vikings as presented in their religion, either seen as guidelines or as narratives influenced by society. We are not going to present a summary of the myths as that would be too extensive and we suggest that the readers familiarise themselves with the myths. Lokasenna, collecting information can be very useful and you should not talk ill of people behind their backs as it might backfire. Skírnismál, first try to use peaceful means and if that fails use force. Hárbarðsljóð, do not try to force people who have the upper hand. Þrymskviða, you should not steal from people who are more powerful than you. Hyndluljóð, a völvu cannot be fooled. Grógaldr, you should listen to your parents or metaphysical beings. Fjölsvinnsmál, you cannot enter the home of the Gods.


8. Conclusion
When we first started writing this project we knew that we could not know whether the Vikings believed in the Æsir Religion or not, nor to what extent. As time passed we realised that doubting to what extent they practised their religion is something modern and a reflection of our own time. Earlier, when people did not have the scientific explanations we have today, they would never have doubted that people believed in the super natural. The question of which religion they practised was however still open. By applying the theories about myths and religion on to the myths of the Æsir Religion and comparing the result with the historical material on the Vikings, we learned that there were striking similarities between these and the Vikings’ every day life. The gods of the Æsir Religion lived by almost the same pattern as the Vikings or vice versa. Thus implying that the Gods were made in the image of them, or, if the Æsir exists, the Vikings were an image of them or at least tried to behave in similar ways. These similarities of the Æsir Religion and the Viking society could indicate that this was the belief of the Vikings. If the narratives have been changed after the introduction of Christianity, we believe the changes to have been superficial, while the main moral of the narratives are still intact. To the question of what extent the Vikings practised their religion, we can only repeat what has already been mentioned above namely that doubting their believing is something modern and a reflection of our own time. Therefore we think that most Vikings believed in the Æsir Religion and practised this belief. It is possible, though, that the myths have been created by poets who described society in a metaphorical way. If this is the case it could be questioned by several factors such as the runic inscription of Þórr’s name175, the name of Nordic towns as Odense and Tórshavn, Snorri Sturluson’s desperate attempt to explain why his ancestors were misled and various archaeological finds which prove that they sacrificed to someone or something. Furthermore, the poems of Codex Regius are not very self-contradictory in spite of the many potential authors which implies a degree of coherence in the myths of the society.

See chapter 6.8 The Runic Alphabet. 121

To conclude the project we feel a need to exclaim our deepest and sincerest thoughts, although we shall never know,

‘we believe that they believed’.


9. Process of Group Work
The first couple of weeks of this process our group was very confused. Nobody knew exactly where we were heading so we read a lot and looked for different aspects. After a while we split up into subgroups. This was fruitful for the writing process and the first working papers were produced. We circulated the papers and commented on each others papers individually. In this way the papers were worked through carefully. Occasionally Hartmut managed to guide us through difficulties, despite his lack of knowledge about the Æsir Religion. After the mid-term evaluation we had a much clearer idea of what we were missing and were therefore able to delegate new assignments to the individual group members. We also had a group evaluation which helped us solve personal problems within the group. We were therefore prepared to move out to Connie’s mansion in Roskilde for a short week. These were definitely the most productive days of our project. Also the nicest. After these lovely days we fell into another black hole and transmogrified into big giant slugs capable of doing absolutely nothing resulting in no significant production and some internal problems. We realised that we were much more efficient together, so we invaded RUC. for a few days. At this point we attacked our theory discussion which had been postponed for far too long. Still, we realised that Connie’s place was better, we could not live without the hot tub so we moved back to that lovely place and finished the main part of our paper a week before our deadline. In general, we must say that a group of eight people is too large. It is virtually impossible to make decisions and as we are all very different individuals crisis arose. Surprisingly enough, we have all enjoyed writing this project and still find the topic just as interesting as we did to begin with.


10. Danish Summary
Dette projekt omhandler vikingernes og deres tro. Vi har forsøgt at belyse vikingesamfundet både gennem Codex Regius og Snorri Sturluson’s Edda og andre historiske kilder. Vi lægger ud med at præsentere guderne og diverse koncepter fra Asetroen for at lette forståelsen for læseren senere hen. Herefter har vi beskrevet vikingerne både på deres togter og hjemme i landsbyen. Vi kommer desuden ind på forskellige kulturelle aspekter. Tredje del beskæftiger sig med teorier om myter og religion af Freud, Jung, Campbell, Eliade og Dürkheim. Teorierne bliver præsenteret diskuteret og sidst men ikke mindst sammenholdt med hvad vi ved om Asetroen og vikingerne.


11. List of Mythology Names and Concepts
11.1 Names and Concepts
Old Nordic Alföðr Angrboða Askr Ása Austi Baldr Bor Bragi Buri Bölþorn Dagr Dáin Duneyrr Duraþrór Dvalinn Dverg(a) Embla Eyðhumla Fenrisúlfr Freki Freyja Freyr Frigg Gerð Geri Gýgr Heimdallr Hel Hermóðr Hrimþussar Hrungnir Huginn Hvergelmi Hymir Höðr Jörmungandr Jötna Jötun Leifþrasir Líf Loki Magni Máni Meginjord Miðgarðsorm Danish Alfader Angerbode Ask Ase Øst Balder Bor Brage Bur Båltorn Dag Dain Duneyr Duratror Dvalin Dværg(e) Embla Audhumbla Fenrisulven Freke Freya Frey Frigg Gerd Gere hun jætte Heimdal Hel Hermod Rimtusser Hrungner Hugin Kvergjelme Hymir Høder Midgaardsormen Jætte Jætter Livtrasir Liv Loke Magne Måne Meginjord Midgaardsormen English Father of the Universe Angerboda Ask Aese East Balder Bor Bragi Bure Bölthorn Day Dáin Duneyr Durathrór Dvalin Dwarf(s) Embla Audhumla Fenrir Wolf Freke Freyja Freyr Frigg Grid Gjere Female Jotun Heimdall Hel Hermod Frost ogres Hrungnir Hugin Kvergjelme Hymir Hod Serpent of Midgard Jotun Jotuns Lifthrasir Lif Loki Magne Moon Meginjord Serpent of Midgard


Mímis Móði Muninn Mögu Heimdallar Nanna Niðhöggr Niörðr Nordri Nornir Nótt Óðinn Ratatoskr Rígr Sif Skaði Skuld Sleipnir Sól Sudri Svaðilfæri Synir Bors Týr Þórr Urðr Útgarða-Loki Vakjyrjur Vanir Váli Véi Verðandi Verðfölnir Vesti Vili Víðarr Völvu Ymir Æsir

Mimir Mode Munin Heimdals sønner Nanna Nidhog Njord Nord Norner Nat Odin Ratatosk Rig Sif Skade Skuld Sleipnir Sol Syd Svadilfare Bors-Sønner Tyr Tor Urd Udgaardsloke Valkyrier Vaner Våle Ve Vordende Vedrfålnir Vest Vile Vidar Vølve Ymir Aser

Mimir Mode Munin The sons of Heimdal Nanna Nidhogg Njord North Norns Night Odin Ratatosk Rig Sif Skadi Skuld Sleipnir Sun South Svadilfari Sons of Bor Tyr Thor Urd Utgard-Loki Valkyries Vanir Vali Ve Verdande Verðfölnir West Vile Vidar Volve Yme Aesir

11.2 Places
Old Nordic Ásgarðr Gimlé Ginnungagap Jötunheimum Miðgarð Mímisbrunn Múspell Niflheimur Urðarbrunn Útgarð Valhöll Danish Asgaard Gimle Ginnungegab Jætte-Verden Midgaard Mimirsbrønd Muspell Nivlheim Urds brønd Udgaard Valhal English Asgard Gimli Ginnungagap Jotunheim Midgard Mimesbrunn Muspell Nivlheim Urdarbrunn Utgard Valhalla





11.3 Others
Old Nordic Bifröst Fimbulvetr Fjölsvinnsmál Gjallarhorn Gleipnir Grógaldr Gylfaginning Hárbardðsljóð Hyndluljóð Lokasenna Mjöð Miölnir Ragnarökrs Rígsþula Skírnismál Þrymskviða Völuspá Yggdrasil Danish Bifrost Fimbul vinter Svipdag og Fjølsvinn Gjålls Horn Gleipner Groas Galder Gylfagging Graaskæg Hyndlasangen Lokes skænderi Mjød Mjølner Ragnarok Rigsthula Skirners færd Trymskvadet Vølvens Spådom Yggdrasil English Bivrost Fimbul Winter Svipdag and Fjølsvinn Gjallarhorn Gleipnir Groas Galder Gylfaginning Greybeard The song of Hyndla Lokis quarrel Mead Mjollnir Ragnarok Rig’s Song The travel of Skirnir The song of Trym The Volve´s Prophecy Yggdrasil


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