Norse Mythology

                Norse Mythology

Norse Mythology in its form today comes down to us mainly from the Icelandic Eddas and sagas which were written down centuries after the Christianisation took hold in the north. There has been vast research trying to discern the true ancient religion as it was practiced by the people of the Scandinavian countries. This is opposed to the representation we are given in the written sources. Norse mythology presents us with a multilayered, often contradictory, world view with a myriad of parallels in other mythological systems. It is a playground for the comparative mythology researcher, rich with elements from Indo-European, Shamanistic, and other belief systems. It is with this thought that I hope to present some of the more better researched works of authors in the field of Norse Mythology. I will also include others of a more controversial nature that may conflict with varying scholastic views. I leave it to the discerning reader to make up their owns minds as to the validity of the information presented here.

Probably one of the most recommended beginners books, Kevin Crossley takes the reader into the Norse worldview and interestingly enough to the World of the Rus Viking and Ibn Fadlan. The author's introduction is excellent with a bearing on the lay reader whilst Crossley's 32 chapters render the stories into a modern language that retains much of the character of the original poems and sources. The text of the myths is left clean and uncluttered with foot notes. If there is a downside to this book, some folks might argue that there are details that do not go in depth enough? Following the myths is a section of commentary on each of them. The book has a glossary with a helpful bibliography.

The Norse Myths (Pantheon Fairy Tale and Folklore Library) (Paperback)

ISBN: 0836950860

**** Rating 4 Stars

This book by Padraic Colum is a rich selection of age-old legends concerning the gods and goddesses who dwell in Asgard, their problems with the mischievous Loki, the exploits of Odin and Thor, the story of Sigurd, the winning of Brynhild, the twilight of the gods and more. Enhanced with over 40 atmospheric illustrations by Willy Pogany. The book is well written but divided into 4 components, each part containing about 8 - 12 stories about the Gods. The stories are both amusing and entertaining and if anything, the price of this book is also very affordable and would make a good gift for any beginner or folks with a low budget interested in Northern Mythology.

Nordic Gods and Heroes (281 page paperback) by Padraic Colum

ISBN: 0486289125

See also: The Children of Odin


*** Rating 3 Stars

Professor John Lindow's "Norse Mythology: A Guide to the Gods, Heroes, Rituals, and Beliefs" is one of three important reference works on the subject currently or recently available, following Rudolf Simek's heavily linguistic "Dictionary of Northern Mythology" (German edition 1984, translated by Angela Hall, 1993) and Andy Orchard's "Cassell's Dictionary of Norse Myth & Legend" (and slightly variant titles, 1997). Each of the three takes a different approach, and I have found them nicely complementary.The book opens with an introduction that explores the historical background of the Scandinavian people, their ties to Indo-European culture, the tradition of Skaldic poetry, and the texts of Snorri Sturluson. In addition, problems that arise in studying Norse mythology are addressed, problems that develop as texts dealing with Norse deities were composed by Christian authors writing in different languages centuries after the actual worship of the deities.


John Lindow, Norse Mythology: A Guide to the Gods, Heroes, Rituals, and Beliefs (Oxford University Press, 2001)

ISBN: 0-19-515382-0

**** Rating 4 Stars

The three mighty gods of the Germanic pantheon, Freyr, órr, and Odinn, are very different from one another. Freyr appears as the divine counterpart of the sacred human kng, Borr is the friend of men and the champion of human values. Odinn, as a mysterious wonderer and magician, arrives unexpectedly to help, to counsel, or to destroy. This book traces the equalities of the gods to the variant strands of which Germanic myth is woven: to the humanistic values of the Ancient Middle East where the figure of the monster-fighter originated, to social institution of kingship, and to the warrior ideals of the nomadic steppe nations. This new study by Lotte Motz is a major step towards questioning Dumezil“s Three-Function-Theory and is likely to spark off new discussions on the nature and origin of the heathen Germanic religion.

The King, the Champion and the Sorcerer by Prof. Lotte Motz

A Study in Germanic Myth

ISBN: 3-900538-57-3


**** Rating 4 Stars

Viking Empires is a definitive new history of five hundred years of Viking civilisation and the first study of the global implications of the expansion, integration, and reorientation of the Viking World. Offering an assessment of Scandinavian society before the 790s, the book traces the political, military, cultural and religious history of the Viking Age from Iceland to the Baltic States. The authors show that it is not possible to understand the history of the Norman Conquest, the successes of David I of Scotland or the relationship between the Holy Roman Empire and the Papacy without considering the impact of the history of Scandinavia. The book concludes with a new account of the end of the Viking era, arguing that there was no sudden decline but the gradual absorption of the Scandinavian kingdoms into the project of the crusades and a refocusing of imperial ambitions on the Baltic and Eastern Europe.

Angelo Forte, Richard Oram, Frederik Pedersen: Viking Empires (Cambridge University Press) 462 pages

ISBN-10: 0521829925 Hardback

Also see:

**** Rating 4 Stars

The first book in English to deal with the twin subjects of Old Norse poetry and the various vernacular treatises on native poetry that were a conspicuous feature of medieval intellectual life in Iceland and the Orkneys from the mid-twelfth to the fourteenth centuries. Its aim is to give a clear description of the rich poetic tradition of early Scandinavia, particularly in Iceland, where it reached its zenith, and to demonstrate the social contexts that favoured poetic composition, from the oral societies of the early Viking Age in Norway and its colonies to the devout compositions of literate Christian clerics in fourteenth-century Iceland. The author analyses the two dominant poetic modes, Eddic and skaldic, giving fresh examples of their various styles and subjects; looks at the prose contexts in which most Old Norse poetry has been preserved; and discusses problems of interpretation that arise because of the poetry's mode of transmission. She is concerned throughout to link indigenous theory with practice, beginning with the pre-Christian ideology of poets favoured by the god Odin and concluding with the Christian notion that a plain style best conveys the poet's message.

A History of Old Norse Poetry & Poetics Author: Margaret Clunies Ross ; 296 pages

ISBN: 1843840340,  Boydell & Brewer Ltd

**** Rating 4 Stars

A particular, recurring feature of Old Norse myths and legends is an encounter between creatures of This World [gods and human beings] and those of the Other [giants, giantesses, dwarves, prophetesses, monsters and the dead]. Concentrating on cross-gendered encounters, this book analyses these meetings, and the different motifs and situations they encompass, from the consultation of a prophetess by a king or god, to sexual liaisons and return from the dead. It considers the evidence for their pre-Christian origins, discusses how far individual poets and prose writers were free to modify them, and suggests that they survived in medieval Christian society because [like folk-tale] they provide a non-dogmatic way of resolving social and psychological problems connected with growing up, succession from one generation to the next, sexual relationships and bereavement.


ISBN: 1843840421, Boydell & Brewer Ltd

Meeting the Other in Norse Myth and Legend : John McKinnell; 304 pages

**** Rating 4 Stars

I had high hopes for this book, which describes itself as "exploring the magic and mystery of the middle ages, J. R. R. Tolkien, and The Lord of the Rings. I settled down to read it with expectations that, alas, were dashed almost immediately upon opening it. This is a truly idiotic book. (If you're curious about Tolkien's authentically medieval inspiration for his imaginative constructs, then you might want to skip to the end of this review where I offer some suggestions about good books to read regarding the relationships between medieval literatures, myths, and cultures, and Tolkien's Middle-earth.) The book opens with a map of Western Europe, and includes some black and white photographs of places and artifacts. There is an index, though the book lacks end-notes, or a bibliography. The last few pages are a listing of sources, organized by chapters. Bates seems to lump the good in with the bad, and, unfortunately, relies almost exclusively on translations and secondary sources, many of which are less than scholarly.

Brian Bates, The Real Middle-earth (Palgrave MacMillan, 2003)

ISBN: 0330491709

** Rating 2 Stars

This major survey of Old Norse-Icelandic literature and culture comprises 29 chapters written by leading scholars in the field, over a third of whom are Icelanders. At the same time, it conveys a sense of the mainland Scandinavian origins of the Icelandic people, and reflects the ongoing contact between Iceland and other countries and cultures. The volume highlights current debates among Old Norse-Icelandic scholars specializing in different aspects of the subject. Coverage of traditional topics is complemented by material on previously neglected areas of study, such as the sagas of Icelandic bishops and the translated knights' sagas. Chapters on 'archaeology', 'social institutions' and 'geography and travel' make it possible to view the literature in its wider cultural context while chapters on 'reception' and 'continuity' demonstrate the ways in which medieval Norse-Icelandic literature and culture overflow into the modern period.


A Companion to Old Norse-Icelandic Literature & Culture; Rory McTurk 566 pages

ISBN:  0631235027, Blackwell Publishing

**** Rating 4 Stars

This volume contains English translations of a number of articles that have been published over the years by Jón Hnefill Ašalsteinsson, professor of Folkloristics at the University of Iceland. The articles, which are now accompanied by additional notes and in-formation, cover a wide range of material concerning the Old Norse religion and Icelandic folk beliefs. Here one finds discussion of the nature of the mythological wind giant, Hręsvelgr; the role of sacrifice at legal gatherings; the presentation of pagan myths and religious customs in the medieval sagas recorded by Christians; the way that the images of giants and elves have altered over time in the popular accounts in Iceland; and the way in which oral tradition has transformed accounts of actual events into traditional ghost stories.



A Piece of Horse Liver; Myth, Ritual and Folklore in Old Icelandic Sources (Paperback) by Jon Hnefill Adalsteinsson, Terry Gunnell (Translator), Joan Turville-Petre (Translator)

University of Iceland Pr (December 1, 1998)

ISBN: 9979542640

**** Rating 4 Stars

The English Warrior: From Earliest Times to 1066 (Paperback) 272 pages, Publisher Anglo-Saxon Books by Stephen Pollington

ISBN:  1898281106

One clarification needs repeating: this book is about the Anglo-Saxon military experience, from their early (mythic) raids and use as mercenaries, up to 1066. For those interested in the Anglo-Saxon way of war, I think this book would be very valuable. It is divided into three parts: the warrior in society, his weapons, and military strategy and tactics. The first part deals with the warrior's relationship to his lord, dueling, the gods of warriors (Woden and Thor, particularly), shield-maidens, berserkers, and so on. The second part will be especially interesting to reenactors and the like. Pollington has gathered and summarized a lot of technical data from various sources. His discussion of the sword is not very long (14 pages), but he discusses the spear (10 pages), the axe (3), the shield, (9), as well as seax, helmet, armor, the bow, and oddities. The later include the hammer and the "staff-sword", which seems to be a slashing spear like the Norse `hoggspjot'. In his discussion of the spear, he cites Swanton's typology in toto, all 30-odd types, with lengths and descriptions of each type, and illustrations of many of them.

One item I found entirely new to me was the "corrugated" cross-section of spearheads; the flattened-diamond ones and lenticular (lens-shaped) ones were familiar, but some late spears had a cross-section like a diamond with only two surfaces hollow-ground, or like a sheet of metal folded, then folded back to leave a ridge in the middle: the result resembles a Nazi SS lightening-bolt insignia more than anything else. There is a classification of shield bosses, and where each type was popular - lots of useful data in one handy volume. The section on warfare is well done too. Pollington discusses tactics and strategy, the use of horses and fortifications and so on.

Some noteworthy features of this book: there are lots of quotes, and excellent line drawings of artwork, archeological finds and the like. All the quotes are given in the original (mostly Old English, some Old Norse) as well as his own translations. Pollington has also written a couple of books on learning Old English, so I am inclined to trust his translations. ]Beowulf is well represented, also the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, but a lot of more obscure texts as well. For practitioners of Western Martial Arts, rest easy. One of credits goes to Terry Brown of English MartialArts, so the statements on the use of weapons have been vetted by an experienced teacher in their use. The piece de resistance, however, is the three appendices. These are the full texts of the three great OE military poems, in parallel translation: the battles of Finnsburh, Brunanburh, and Maldon.

I recommend this work highly. It compliments Davidson's The Sword in Anglo-Saxon England, dealing with many other weapons, and both social and military matters, as well as having lots of illustrations. It fits opposite Paddy Griffith's Viking Way of War, dealing with defense against the Vikings, and has technical and personal matters Griffith omits.

**** Rating 4 Stars

A History of the Vikings by Gwynn Jones

30 November, 1983
Oxford University Press, USA
ISBN: 0192801341

An utterly splendid book, quite the most brilliantly written, balanced, and explanative general work on the Vikings ever to appear in English or in any language.' Scandinavian Studies The subject of this book is the Viking realms, Denmark, Sweden, and Norway, their civilization and culture, and their many sided achievements at home and abroad. A highly readable narrative follows the development of these Northern peoples - the Nordmenn - from their origins and the legendary pre-history to the military triumphs of Canute and the defeat of Harald Hardradi at Stamford Bridge in 1066, which symbolically ended the Viking age. The book recounts the Vikings' exploits in war, trade, and colonization: the assault on Western Christendom; the trading and military ventures to the Slav and Muslim worlds and to Byzantium; and the western voyages of discovery and settlement to Greenland, Iceland, and America. Numerous photographs, maps, and drawings contribute to Gwyn Jones's rounded portrait of Viking civilization and vividly evoke the importance in their culture of religion, art, and seafaring.

Jones presents a nearly overwhelming amount of detail on the far-flung history of the Vikings, from tribal origins in Scandinavia to their voyages of conquest and trade as far afield as Constantinople and Newfoundland. When historical information is scant or doubtful, Jones fleshes out the book with rewarding studies on Viking culture, language, and society; including a refreshingly understated examination of Norse mythology. We learn that sometimes the Vikings really did deserve their reputation as bloodthirsty marauders, but at the core they were very pragmatic empire builders who were usually able to blend into the societies they conquered, especially in Russia and Britain, thus disappearing as a distinct group and enriching the cultures of those other lands. The most fascinating portion of the book concerns the Viking exploration of the new world (including the harsh Iceland and Greenland) a good 500 years before Columbus. Jones also pulls out a surprise at the end of the saga with the indirect Norwegian influence on the Norman conquest of England in 1066, while the Normans had once been Vikings themselves.

**** Rating 4 Stars

Next Page


Quick Links:

  [ Norse Mythology ]

[ About me ] [ Links ] [ Freyja Runes Seidr ] [ Sabine the Wolwa ] [ Little Bones Women ]

 [ Pierced by the light ] [ Rorik's Column ] [ Rune Lore ] [ Rune Origins ] [ Rune Poems ]

 [ Rune Scholars ] [ Rune FAQ ] [ Guido von List ] [ Poetry ] [ Viking Age Costumes ]

 [ View Comments ] [ Screaming Queen Syndrome ] [ My Reviews ]

 [ Modern Myths ] [ Controversies ] [ Book Hoard ] [ Book Reviews ]

  [ HE Davidson ] [ Heimdallr ] [ Return of the Vikings ]

 [ NA Runestones ] [ Viktor Rydberg ]

[ Your Articles ]



                                        2005 Rig Svenson ©