The Religion of Ancient Scandinavia

Autor: William Craigie

Wydawnictwo: Ozymandias Press

The ninth and tenth centuries were a period of new development and great changes within the Scandinavian countries. The Viking expeditions brought a large part of the population into direct contact with war and battle, while the former petty kings disappeared, or lost most of their importance, before strong rulers like Gorm in Denmark or Harald in Norway. In the courts of these new sovereigns there was a life and splendour previously unknown in the north, and under the royal favour the art of poetry flourished to a remarkable extent. It appears fairly certain that in these surroundings the cult of Odin found most favour, and that the conceptions of the god which meet us in the mythology were developed among men who found a pleasure both in fighting and in poetry, and who modelled their ideas of the warlike deity on the monarch to whose court they attached themselves. Odin was thus the god of the warrior, the poet, and the friend of kings, while Thor retained his former place in the hearts of those who still followed the old way of life in the secluded valleys of Norway or Iceland. Something of this distinctly appears in the figures of the two gods as they are presented in the old poems and legends. Odin bears all the stamp of the new life and culture about him; Thor is rather a sturdy yeoman of the old unpolished type. Odin is a ruler in whom knowledge and power are equally combined; Thor has little more to rely upon than his bodily strength. Even in small matters the contrast is marked: Odin lives by wine alone, while Thor eats the flesh of his goats and drinks the homely ale. Odin's weapon is the spear; Thor's is the more primitive hammer. It is to Odin that all the warriors go after death; Thor gets only the thralls. In some of the poems there is an obvious tendency to assign to Thor an undignified and even ludicrous part, which is strongly at variance with the veneration in which he was actually held, as we have seen above. It would, perhaps, be unsafe to attach very much importance to this, as it, is quite uncertain how far these poems can be accepted as evidence for religious beliefs. It is perhaps more significant that while writers like Snorri tell how Odin and various other gods (such as Njörd and Frey) came from the south-east into Denmark and Sweden, there is no similar account as regards Thor. In the historical period, too, there were distinguished families in Sweden and Norway whose genealogy was traced back to Odin and Frey, while no one claimed descent from Thor. Both of these facts may reasonably be regarded as supporting the view that Odin belongs to a later period in the history of Scandinavia than Thor, and some such explanation appears to be requisite to account for the striking differences in the traditional statements regarding the two chief gods of the old religion...
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