The Origins of the Norse Mythology

Norse mythology comprises the indigenous pre-Christian religion, beliefs and legends of the Scandinavian peoples, including those who settled on Iceland, where most of the written sources for Norse mythology were assembled.

Norse mythology is the best-preserved version of the older common Germanic paganism, which also includes the very closely related Anglo-Saxon mythology.

The Norse Gods are the mythological characters from stories shared by Northern Germanic tribes of the 9th century AD. These stories were passed down in the form of poetry until the 11th – 18th centuries when the Eddas and other medieval texts were written.

The Poetic Edda (also known as the Elder Edda) was committed to writing about 50 years after the Prose Edda. It contains 29 long poems, of which 11 deal with the Germanic deities, the rest with legendary heroes like Sigurd the Volsung (the Siegfried of the German version Nibelungenlied). Although scholars think it was transcribed later than the other Edda, the language and poetic forms involved in the tales appear to have been composed centuries earlier than their transcription.

Besides these sources, there are surviving legends in Scandinavian folklore. Some of these can be corroborated with legends appearing in other Germanic literatures e.g. the tale related in the Anglo-Saxon Battle of Finnsburgh and the many allusions to mythological tales in Deor. When several partial references and tellings survive, scholars can deduce the underlying tale. Additionally, there are hundreds of place names in Scandinavia named after the gods.

rok-runestoneA few runic inscriptions, such as the Rök Runestone and the Kvinneby amulet, make references to the mythology. There are also several runestones and image stones that depict scenes from Norse mythology, such as Thor’s fishing trip, scenes depicting Sigurd (Sigfried) the dragon slayer, Odin and Sleipnir, Odin being devoured by Fenrir, and one of the surviving stones from the Hunnestad Monument appears to show Hyrrokkin riding to Baldr’s funeral.

In Denmark, one image stone depicts Loki with curled dandy-like mustaches and lips that are sewn together and the British Gosforth cross shows several mythological images. There are also smaller images, such as figurines depicting the god Odin (with one eye), Thor (with his hammer) and Freyr (with his enormous phallus).

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3 Comments

  1. Ebony

    The thing to remember, though, is that most of the references we use were transcribed after Christianity entered Scandinavia. This means that many of the stories were likely corrupted by said influence, rewritten to more closely resemble the Christian mythos. Regrettably, as a result, we know very little of what the original stories and culture were like.

    • Johan

      While Snorri was a christian munk, he actually goes into some length in the younger edda about how he saw them as merely “let astray”. He writes that he believes it was just a expression of devotion to the christian god before Jesus word had spread. So he tried to keep it as unbiased as possible since he didn’t see it as outright “heresy”. Whether he told the truth on that part is sadly impossible to say.

  2. Laufyson

    I agree, although there are several books that I believe have remained uncorrected by Christian mythos. The Eddas are extremely helpful as well as Myths of the Norsemen by Helene A. Guerber. Just suggestions for anyone studying 🙂

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