Category: Norse

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EDDA: 

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.

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SAGA: 

The Old Norse word saga means ‘story’, ‘tale’ or ‘history’ and normally refers specifically to the epic prose narratives written mainly in Iceland between the 12th- and 15th centuries CE, covering the country’s history as well as Scandinavia’s legendary past. A few sagas were also written in Norway but in either country their usually anonymous writers shaped their stories in high-quality, nuanced prose, leading the saga to now be considered one of the prime vernacular literary genres of Medieval Europe. Poetry is generally included, too, which helps point out the influence older, oral traditions of storytelling are thought to have had on the saga’s development.

Although the heyday of Old Norse saga composition lay in the 13th century CE, the tales often dive back through the ages into the times of ancestors, heroes and legendary kings, spanning from prehistory through the Viking Age (c. 790-1100 CE) – including the settlement of Iceland – to the writers’ own times. History and fiction are often mixed in a sort of Gordian knot that is hard to disentangle, and the stories have as their playground not just Iceland but also Scandinavia, the British Isles, the North Atlantic (including Greenland and North America), the Mediterranean, Russia and the Middle East.

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GODS AND GODDESSES OF THE ANCIENT WORLD: Freyr (Fertility god in Norse Mythology) 

FREYR (Old Norse for ‘Lord’, sometimes anglicised as Frey) is the main fertility god in Norse mythology, his connection with harvests, sun and rain, virility, weddings, and his rule over wealth securing him an important position within the predominantly agricultural Viking Age Scandinavian society (c. 790-1100 CE). This makes him the most prominent god of the Vanir family (the other family being the Æsir). Freyr’s link with fertility is not just of a personal nature but is very much connected to the land and its produce, too, which helps explain why there is such ample evidence of a cult of Freyr. Son of Njord and twin brother of Freyja, Freyr overshadows both of these fellow Vanir gods when it comes to evidence of active worship; many place names bear his mark, and sacrifices and devotion ring out loud and clear from both the literature and the archaeological record, especially pertaining to Sweden. With his alternate name Yngvi-Freyr, he was even seen as the mythical ancestor of the Swedish royal dynasty of the Ynglings.

Freyr, who is married to the giant-daughter Gerðr whom he has a son, Fjölnir, with, is famously accompanied by a boar (sometimes depicted with golden bristles and named Gullinborsti) and also owns the highly useful ship Skíðblaðnir. A more versatile god than he would seem at first glance, Freyr’s abilities also reach beyond the domain of fertility and extend to the battlefield; myths describe his military prowess, and his death comes in battlewith the giant Surtr during the Ragnarök, the final destiny of the gods in which the known world is destroyed.

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VIKING AGE GREENLAND: 

GREENLAND was drawn into the Viking Age and settled by Norse Vikings in the late 980s CE, their presence there lasting into the 15th century CE. Despite its ice-riddled geography, the Norse managed to carve out a living for themselves in these unforgiving lands by seeking out verdant pockets along the south-western coast, founding both the so-called Eastern Settlement (which is located, confusingly, in the south of West-Greenland) and the Western Settlement, some 650 km further north along the west coast in the present-day Nuuk region.

Around 75% of Greenland’s immense surface – which totals around 1,350,000 square km, making it the world’s largest island – is covered by inland ice, which gangs up with slabs of drift ice floating along the coasts to make any sane person think twice about moving there just for fun. Glaciers and mountains function as natural boundaries, making inland travel far from straight-forward. With a mostly arctic climate boasting mean temperatures below 10 degrees Celsius in the warmest months with only some of its areas poking above this, Greenland is not exactly ideal for growing such staples as grain, and there are few trees.

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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.

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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.

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NORSE MYTHOLOGY: 

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.

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