Tribute to the works
of Dr. HR E Davidson
Roderick Ellis Davidson was born at Bebington, Cheshire, in 1914.
She was educated at Park High School for Girls, Birkenhead, and
Newnham College, Cambridge, where she took Firsts in English and
Archaeology. She received her Ph.D in 1940 after three years of
research under Professor and Mrs. Chadwick into the pagan beliefs of
Scandinavia. She was an assistant lecturer in English at the Royal
Holloway College from 1939 to 1944, after which she worked as a
part-time lecturer in English at Birkbeck College. Since 1955, she
has been engaged in writing and research. She is a Fellow of the
Society of Antiquaries and a member of the Council of the Folklore
Society. Married with two children, she lives just outside
She is a lecturer and also holds a Calouste Gulbenkian
Research Fellowship at the Lucy Cavendish College, Cambridge, and is
working on eastern influences on the pre-Christian religion in
[From "Gods and Myths of the Viking
Sometime Marion Kennedy Research
Student of Newnham College, Assistant Lecturer in English Royal
[From "The Road to Hel" reprint, 1968].
H.R. Ellis-Davidson is Vice-President of
Lucy Cavendish College, University of Cambridge, where she is Director
of Studies in Anglo-Saxon, Norse, and Celtic. She teaches and lectures
in Old Norse, and her research focuses especially on Saxo Grammaticus
and Old Norse mythology and religion.
[From "Edda, A Collection of
"Hilda Ellis Davidson past President and
now Honorary Member of the Folklore Society" (In a review of "The
Concept of the Goddess", 1996)
"Hilda Ellis Davidson is a retired
lecturer and former Vice-President of Lucy Cavendish College,
Cambridge." (At the Carolina Academic Press website, 2001)
Hilda Ellis Davidson specialised in the
detailed study of north European myths, starting with
The Road to Hel 1943.In
her book The Road to
Hel Hilda Ellis-Davidson also remarked that "a fertility
religion connected with the worship of the sun, and possibly
including … the conception of rebirth … can be seen fully developed
in the art and religion of Egypt, and seems to have travelled
northward to reach Scandinavia during the Bronze Age … the ship
evidently played an important part, for it is shown continually,
sometimes together with wheels and sun-discs …."
Davidson, H.R.E. (1968) The
Road to Hel: A Study of the Conception of the Dead in Old Norse
Literature (Hilda Roderick Ellis), Greenwood Press Publishers,
After a number of important studies, culminating with The
Lost Beliefs of Northern Europe 1993. Davidson was also a prominent
member of the Folklore Society and, during the 1970s, instigated
some long-overdue reappraisals of the way British folklore is best
studied. Her work is typified by a detailed look at the 'evidence'
and a refusal to make this evidence fit into a meta-theory. Instead
in her later work she recognises the complexity of beliefs
associated with the myths.
Although Davidson's approach to myths is rarely
cited by other mythologists (and the reason for this maybe more to
do with north European myths being fairly incidental to the
interests of the 'great men' of mythology), her recognition that
there is considerable scope for improvement in the study of myths,
and the 'temptation to oversimplify wildly' (1993:
160) is shared by the current generation of mythologists. Davidson's
books demonstrate an approach to mythology that is far more rigorous
than most of her contemporaries, although her work is not 'overtly'
Hilda Ellis Davidson, a distinguished
scholar of many years standing, writes (Davidson 1998:11): "If
scholars have been somewhat reluctant to explore the symbol of the
Goddess there has been plenty of enthusiasm at a more popular level.
Robert Graves' book The White Goddess has misled many
innocent readers with his eloquent but deceptive statements about a
nebulous Celtic goddess in early Celtic literature on which he was
no authority". Yet the concluding words of her book again express a
positive outcome. Describing the mythical survival of Northern
goddesses, she writes: "We can be confident that in this new age the
goddesses will be there once more, protective and threatening, with
their special gifts and powers. Life could not continue on earth
without them". (190 )”
Davidson on Northern Elves
Dr. H. R. Ellis Davidson in
Mythology mentions the possibility that the
might once have been the
same as the
have been the hostile giants
with whom the others were at war, and that the elves, as they passed
into folklore became a homelier, smaller people. She also suggests
some connection between the elves and dead. In the passage
land-spirits she says:
There seems to be some link between the elves and the dead within the
earth, who still benefit men and who may be born again into the world
through their descendants. The early King Olaf, thought to be reborn
in the person of the Christian King Olaf the Holy, was called 'Elf of
Geirstad', and sacrifices were said to be made to him and also the
elves dwelling in mounds. Another race of beings linked closely with
the earth were the land-spirits, said to follow 'lucky' men and to
give help with hunting and fishing. They were believed to dwell in
hills, stones and rivers, and they sometimes appeared in animal form
or as little men and women. It was said to be forbidden to bring ships
into harbour with menacing figure-heads, because they might frighten
Ref: Ellis Davidson, H. R.,
Mythology, London, 1967, p. 117
According to the later Scandinavian mythology the light elves, under
the dominion of Freyr, one of the Vanir, and the god of vegetation,
had already something of the same character as the elves in
Elizabethan England, small, tricksy, flower-loving creatures, though
in earlier times they had been more various and more beautiful. Their
home as Alfheim, one of the nine realms of the world in Scandinavian
cosmology. The Saxon elves seem to have been larger and more
formidable. There are spells against elfshot in the Anglo-Saxon
Charm-books. In Scotland down to the seventeenth century the elves
were full-sized and Fairyland was called Elfame.
H.R. Ellis Davidson,in her Myths and Symbols in Pagan Europe,
(Syraceuse 1988), pgs 203-204 cites:
“Thor's hammer was marked on boundary stones while the Dagda's
club, through its' carriage in a wagon, marked or dug the boundaries
of the provinces. This important Gaelic father of the gods was, none
the less, a somewhat crude figure even portrayed with his tunic barely
covering his bottom. One myth mocks his great appetite and uncouth
appearance: Indech and the Fomorians filled a huge hole in the ground
with a meaty porridge for the Dagda and threatened him if he did not
eat it all. He did indeed eat everything and the Fomorians then
laughed at his huge distended belly but, you could say, the Dagda had
the last laugh as he still got to have sex with Indech's daughter. A
Norse myth tells of Thor cross-dressing as the goddess Freyja, you
might say looked ridiculous, to resume his hammer from the giant Thrym
and his great appetite was noted with amazement by Thrym.
Dagda had a great cauldron, one of the great treasures of the Tuatha
De Danaan, which was a source of never emptying hospitality. Thor went
to obtain a cauldron for Aegir's feast for the gods.”
Hilda Ellis Davidson also writes about the connections between milk
and the goddess, citing first the ancient world where for example
Hathor appears as a cow goddess; and then surveys in depths the
variety of evidence from northern
Europe. She makes the point that the dairy was always
the women's responsibility and she suggests that there may have been,
in Romano-British culture an indigenous dairy goddess. This is a
wide-ranging and fascinating survey that will also provide new
researchers with a wealth of material for further enquiry. For
half a century, Hilda Ellis Davidson has been the foremost
English-language scholar of Norse religion. All of her books are worth
reading; the three listed below should not be too hard to find and
represent some of her best work.
Hilda Roderick Ellis (Hilda R. Ellis)
Hilda Roderick Ellis-Davidson (H.R.E.
Davidson) c. 1958
Hilda Ellis Davidson (H.E. Davidson) c.
(1941) "Fostering by Giants in Old Norse
Sagas", Med. Aev. 10: 70-85.
(1942) "Sigurd in the Art of the Viking
Age", Antiquity 16: 216-36.
(1943) The Road to Hel, Cambridge
University Press, "Originally part of a thesis accepted in 1940 for
the degree of Ph.D. in the University of Cambridge."
(1950) "The Hill of the Dragon"
(Anglo-Saxon Burial Mounds), Folklore 61.
(1950) "Gods and Heroes in Stone" In C.
Fox and B. Dickens (eds.), The Early Cultures of North-West Europe (H.M.
Chadwick Memorial Studies), 123-9, London.
(1958) The Golden Age of Northumbria,
Longmans, [a volume in the "Then and There Series"].
(1958) "Weland the Smith," Folklore 69:
(1960) "The Sword at the Wedding"
Folklore 71, 1-18.
(1962) The Sword in Anglo-Saxon England,
Boydell Press, Woodbridge.
(1963) "Folklore and Man's Past",
Folklore, 74: 527-44, London.
(1964) Book Review: Myth and Religion of
the North by E. O. G. Turville-Petre. London: Weidenfeld and Nicholson
(History of Religion), 1964. Antiquity 38: 309-310.
(1964) Gods and Myths of Northern
Europe, Penguin Books Ltd, Harmondsworth. (later re-published as "Gods
and Myths of the Viking Age," Bell Publishing Company, 1980).
(1965) "The Finglesham Man" Sonia
Chadwick Hawkes, H.R.E Davidson and C. Hawkes, Antiquity, 39: 17-32.
(1965) "Thor's Hammer", Folklore 76:
(1965) "The Significance of the Man in
the Horned Helmet", Antiquity 39: 23-7.
(1967) Pagan Scandinavia (Ancient
Peoples and Places 58) London.
(1967) "The Anglo-Saxon Burial at Coombe
[Woodnesborough], Kent", Medieval Archeology 11: 1-41 (by H.E.
Davidson and L. Webster).
(1969) Scandinavian Mythology, Paul
(1969) The Chariot of the Sun and Other
Rites and Symbols of the Northern Bronze Age by Peter Gelling and H.E.
Davidson, Frederick A. Praeger Publishers, New York.
(1969) "The Smith and the Goddess",
Frühmittelalterliche Studiern (University of Münster) 3: 216-26.
(1971) Beowulf and its Analogues by
George Norman Garmonsway, Hilda Roderick Ellis Davidson, and
Jacqueline Simpson; E. P. Dutton.
The Battle God of the Vikings,
(G.N. Garmonsway Memorial Lecture, University of York, Medieval
Monographs I, York.
(1973) "Hostile Magic in the Icelandic
Sagas", The Witch Figure, ed. V. Newall (london) 20-41.
(1974) "Folklore and History", Folklore
(1975) "Scandinavian Cosmology" in C.
Blacker and M. Loewe's Ancient Cosmologies, 172-97, London.
(1975) "Folklore and Literature",
(1976) The Viking Road to Byzantium,
Allen and Unwin, London.
(1978) Patterns of Folklore, D.S. Brewer
Ltd, Ipswich. [Appears to reprint earlier articles such as "Thor's
Hammer" and "The Sword at the Wedding" also includes an essay on "Lady
(1978) "Shape-changing in the Old Norse
Sagas" in J.R. Porter's and W.H.S. Russell's Animals in Folklore,
126-42 Folklore Society, Ipswich.
(1978) "Mithras and Wodan", Études
Mithraïques 4: 99-110, Acta Iranica, Leiden.
(1979) "Loki and Saxo's Hamlet", The
Fool and the Trickster; Studies in Honor of Enid Welsford, ed. P.V.A.
Williams (Cambridge) 3-17.
(1979-80) Saxo Grammaticus The History
of the Danes, Books I-IX [Peter Fisher Translation]: Edited with
Commentary by H.E. Davidson, Woodbridge: Boydell.
(1980) "Wit and Eloquence in the Courts
of Saxo's Early Kings", "To be published as part of the Saxo
Symposium, University of Copenhagen 1979."
(1980) "Insults and Riddles in the Edda
Poems", Published in Edda, A Collection of Essays, 25-46, University
of Manitoba Icelandic Series 4, 1983.
(1981) "The Restless Dead: An Icelandic
Story", in H.E. Davidson and W.M.S. Russell's (eds.) The Folklore of
Ghosts, Mistletoe Series 15, London Folklore Society.
(1981) "The Germanic World" in M. Loewe
and C. Blacker's Divination and Oracles,115-41, London.
(1984) "The Hero in Tradition and
Folklore: Papers Read at a Conference of the Folklore Society Held at
Dyffryn House, Cardiff, July 1982" (World Bibliographical Series),
Folklore Society Library.
(1984) "The Hero as a Fool: The Northern
Hamlet", The Hero in Tradition and Folklore, (ed. H.R.E. Davidson)
30-4, (Mistletoe Books, 19, Folklore Soc.) London,
(1988) Myths and Symbols in Pagan
Europe, Manchester University Press, Manchester.
(1989) The Seer in Celtic and Other
Traditions, ed. by Hilda Ellis Davidson, John Donald Publishers, Ltd.,
(1989) "Hooded men in Celtic and
Germanic Tradition" in G. Davies, Polytheistic Systems, Cosmos 5,
(1989) "The Training of Warriors" in S.
C. Hawkes Weapons and Warfare in Anglo-Saxon England.
(1990) "Religious Practices of the
Northern Peoples in Scandinavian Tradition", Temonos 26:23-24
(1992) "Human Sacrifice in the Late
Pagan Period of North-Western Europe" in M.O.H. Carver's The Age of
Sutton Hoo: The Seventh Century in North-Western Europe, 331-40,
(1992) "Royal Graves as Religious
Symbols" in W. Filmer-Sankey's Anglo-Saxon Studies in Archeology and
History 5, 23-31, Oxford.
(1993) Lost Beliefs of Northern Europe,
(1993) "The Hair and the Dog", Folklore
104: 151-63 by H. E. Davidson and A. Chaudhri.
(1996) Katharine Briggs: Story-teller,
(1996) "Milk and the Northern Goddess"
in S. Billington's and M. Green's The Concept of the Goddess,
Routledge, New York. [This work is a tribute to Davidson].
(1998) Roles of the Northern Goddess,
(2001) "The Wild Hunt" in Supernatural
Enemies, Edited by H.E. Davidson and Anna Chaudhri. Carolina Academic
Press, Durham, N. C.
(2001) Women and Tradition by Hilda
Ellis Davidson and Carmen Blacker, Carolina Academic Press, Durham,
(2003) A Companion to the Fairy Tale,
Hilda Ellis Davidson and Anna Chaudhri, Boydell & Brewer Ltd.
(Date unknown, pre-1980) Author of the
article "Hero" in Encyclopedia Brittanica.
Music:- The Crystal Tears
Artist: Angels of Venice
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