EDDA is a term used to describe two Icelandic manuscripts that were copied down and compiled in the 13th century CE. Together they are the main sources of Norse mythology and skaldic poetry that relate the religion, cosmogony, and history of Scandinavians and Proto-Germanic tribes. The Prose or Younger Edda dates to circa 1220 CE and was compiled by Snorri Sturluson, an Icelandic poet and historian. The Poetic or Elder Edda was written down circa 1270 CE by an unknown author.
Snorri Sturluson’s work was the first of the two manuscripts to be called Edda, however, scholars are uncertain how this exactly came about. Snorri himself did not name it. The term, ‘Edda’, was later ascribed to Snorri’s work by a different author in a manuscript from the early 14th century CE, the Codex Upsaliensis, which contained a copy of Snorri’s Edda within it. Gudbrand Vigfusson, in The Poetry of the Old Northern Tongue, quotes the Codex Upsaliensis as saying, “This Book is called Edda, which Snorri Sturlason put together according to the order set down here: First, concerning the Æsir and Gylfi.” The first use of the word ‘Edda’, that has thus far been located, was in a poem called the Lay of Righ (Háttatal), which was authored by Snorri.
In this poem, the word ‘Edda’ is used as a title for “great-grandmother.” Multiple theories exist, but one suggests that the term may have become associated with Snorri’s manuscript because, like a great-grandmother, it carries a breadth of ancient knowledge and wisdom. Another theory that is more widely accepted by scholars today proposes that ‘Edda’ is closely associated with the word Oddi, which is the Icelandic town where Snorri grew up.
GODS AND GODDESSES OF THE ANCIENT WORLD: Freyja
FREYJA (Old Norse for ‘Lady’, ‘Woman’, or ‘Mistress’) is the best-known and most important goddess in Norse mythology. Beautiful and many-functioned, she features heavily as a fertility goddess stemming from her place in the Vanir family of the gods (the other and main one is the Æsir family) along with her twin brother Freyr and father Njord, and stars in many myths recorded in Old Norse literature as lover or object of lust.
She lives in Fólkvangr (‘Field of the People’), rides a carriage drawn by cats, and is connected not just with love and lust but also with wealth, magic, as well as hand-picking half of all fallen warriors on battlefields to go into Odin’s hall of Valhalla – the other half being selected by Odin himself. She likely played an important role in old Scandinavian religion.
NORSE MYTHOLOGY: Loki
LOKI is a god in Norse mythology who is often simply described as the ‘trickster’ god for his love of playing pranks on both his fellow gods and his or their opponents. Sworn brother of Odin and often the one to dig the other gods out of inconveniently deep holes, Loki’s name nonetheless has many negative connotations due to his deceitful nature and especially the hand he had in the death of the god Baldr, thus setting in motion the coming of the Ragnarök (the ‘final destiny of the gods’ in which the world is destroyed).
With no cult attached to him and no clear function in Viking Age belief, yet being one of only three gods who headlines in more than one myth (the other two being Odin and Thor), Loki takes up a unique spot in the Norse pantheon.
GODS AND GODDESSES OF THE ANCIENT WORLD: Odin
ODIN (Old Norse: Óðinn) is the main god in Norse mythology, while also existing in Germanic mythology as Woden (in Old English), Wodan (in Old Franconian), and Wutan or Wuotan (in Old High German). Described as an immensely wise, one-eyed old man, Odin has by far the most varied characteristics of any of the gods and is not only the man to call upon when war was being prepared but is also the god of poetry, of the dead, of runes, and of magic.
Part of the Æsir family of the gods, he helped create the world, resides in Asgard (the stronghold and home of the gods), and gathers slain warriors around him in Valhalla (‘hall of the slain’), but is eventually crunched to death by the wolf Fenrir in the Ragnarök, the ‘final destiny of the gods’ in which the world is destroyed.
NORSE mythology refers to the Scandinavian mythological framework that was upheld during the Viking Age. Complete with a creation myth that has the first gods slaying a giant and turning his body parts into the world, various realms spread out beneath the World Tree Yggdrasil, and the eventual destruction of the known world in the Ragnarök, the Nordic mythological world is both complex and comprehensive. Its polytheistic pantheon, headed by the one-eyed Odin, contains a great number of different gods and goddesses who were venerated in customs integrated into the ancient Scandinavians’ daily lives.
Peeling back the layers of history in order to form a properly detailed and accurate picture of the myths, beliefs, and customs as they actually were in the Viking Age is no mean feat, especially for an overwhelmingly oral society, as Scandinavia mostly was at the time. As such, we only have the “tips of the narrative icebergs” (Schjødt, 219) when it comes to the Norse gods.