Subscribe to my author newsletter THE AMALIAD, to stay up to date on Authors!me, and get a FREE short story about Ariadne and Theseus!

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

A Problem of (Norse) Sources

I wanted to post an overview of the Norse gods today, but I realized I probably needed to talk a little bit about the difficulties that Norse Mythology presents, as far as determining well... anything about it, honestly.

Unlike the Greco-Roman tradition, for which we have many pre-Christian sources*, Norse Mythology was only preserved in written form AFTER the majority of the North had converted to some form of Christianity or another. This means that ALL of our sources for Norse Mythology (with the exception of a couple of Latin authors) were written VERY late, and (again, with few exceptions) after the pagan system of belief had been largely dismantled. Snorri, one of the primary authors of what we have left of Norse Myth is himself a Christian, and makes his reasoning and agenda quite clear -- he's preserving (Icelandic) Norse Myth not for the purpose of maintaining the lore of the pagan faith tradition itself, but for the purpose of preserving the poetic forms which he saw as an important cultural heritage and inheritance of Icelanders. In the prologue of the Prose Edda, in fact, he takes great pains to discredit the idea of the Norse gods as divine beings, going so far as to turn them instead into kings and princes -- of TROY.

Adding to the problems presented by source bias as relates to faith, what was preserved at all is only a small sliver of a vast and highly variable, highly localized breadth of beliefs. Primarily, those that belonged to Icelanders. But even all Icelanders likely wouldn't have worshipped the same gods in the same way or necessarily in the same order of precedence. Broadly speaking, I'm sure they shared more than they didn't on the island, but every community would have had its own variations on those thematic broad strokes. And the same can be said for the Norse-pagans in Norway or Denmark or Finland or Sweden. From one village to the next, practices and beliefs might well have been wildly different, never mind from one larger kingdom or country** to another.

We have this prevailing idea of these old faiths, in our modern Western World, that they were monolithic, like Christianity*** is or was. But Nordic peoples didn't all have one holy book from which they built their faith, they had no scripture, no state-organized or imposed faith traditions or rituals that united them all (though later, certain kings might impose certain rules -- or demand all their people be baptized, etc). They relied by and large upon wise women or men, shaman-priests and seers, to direct their individual communities. And while some of these wise women (for example) might have traveled from community to community, making rounds, and engaging in rituals that might have been common between one village and the next, the needs of those villages would not all have been the same, and the direction dispensed, therefore, would not have been the same, either. What worked for one group, one tribe, one village, one community, would not necessarily work for another.

So. All of that is said as a kind of disclaimer, before I give you any kind overview of anything Norse Myth related -- because it's important to recognize that any overview we glean from the sources is already deeply flawed and cannot be truly representative of what was once a/many vibrant and living, wide-ranging, cultural and faith tradition(s) or belief(s).

And not unlike the pre-Christian Norse peoples, Heathenry/Asatru/Norse Paganism as a whole today is just as deeply and widely variable and just as highly localized -- there truly is no one way, and even when we might agree on one element generally, it doesn't mean it will look the same from community to community. But... that kind of makes community that much more important, I think, because without it, you lose an essential compass point in making sense of the experiences you might have had, spiritually and otherwise.

*whether you believe the authors were atheists or agnostic or not is another issue altogether, which I won't get into today because we've already got our hands full.

**I use the terms kingdom and country loosely here -- because what we consider to be a united nation today was obviously not necessarily the same united nation of the viking age, if there was a union of tribes at all at any given time.

***I think at this point an argument could be made that Christianity is becoming less monolithic by the day, because local church community to local church community, even within the same town, might interpret the scriptures in extremely variable ways, but again, that's another conversation for another day.

Don't forget to enter to win 1 of 100 (!!!) kindle copies of DAUGHTER OF A THOUSAND YEARS on Goodreads, or just go ahead and give it a pre-order if you prefer! 

Tamer of Horses Helen of Sparta By Helen's Hand Daughter of a Thousand Years
Amazon | Barnes&Noble | IndieBound

No comments:

Post a Comment