The Norns in Old Norse Mythology

The Norns in Old Norse Mythology

The Norns in Old Norse Mythology

The Norns in Old Norse Mythology


The nornir - or norns - were a group of female supernatural beings closely related to ideas about fate in the Old Norse tradition. In this book, author Karen Bek-Pedersen provides a thorough understanding of the role played by norns and other similar beings. Surprisingly little has been written specifically about the norns, and this book is the first detailed discussion of the norns among the literature dealing with Old Norse beliefs. Although often mentioned in scholarship treating Old Norse culture, the norns are all too often dealt with in overly superficial ways. The book's research goes much deeper in order to properly understand the nature and role of the norns in the Old Norse world view. The conclusions that are reached overturn a number of stereotypical conceptions that have long dominated the understanding of these beings. The book is especially relevant to those interested in or studying Old Norse culture and tradition. However, comparative material from Celtic, Anglo-Saxon, and Classical traditions is also employed, therefore the book will also be of interest to those with a broader interest in European mythologies. "This study is marked by impeccable scholarship that will appeal to specialists..." CHOICE, July 2012 Vol. 49 No. 11


Old Norse mythology portrays a group of three female supernatural beings called the norns, who act as representatives of the past, present and future, and who spin and weave fate for mankind. That, at least, is what you have probably always thought. Nothing as mundane as the facts of the matter is likely to quash the stereotypes, I suppose, but I have set myself the task of attempting to quash them nonetheless. This book is here to change your mind.

The book aims to provide an understanding of the role played by the norns in the world view current in the Scandinavian cultural area during the Viking Age and early medieval period. Although the norns are well known to most people who take an interest in Old Norse mythology, there is as yet no in-depth study of them among the literature dealing with Old Norse beliefs. This book sets out to redress that situation.

The first point to note is that the beings concerned are called nornir in Old Norse (sg. norn) and that the policy here will be to use the Old Norse terms rather than English approximations. The rationale is that, although some Old Norse terms have English renditions or approximations (norns, valkyries and fetches for nornir, valkyrjur and fylgjur), this is not the case for all beings that will be discussed below (for example dísir, vanir, ásynjur). I have therefore decided to employ the Old Norse terms across the board because the consistency of doing that greatly appeals to me. Where English words exist, these will be given in square brackets on the first usage of the term, for instance valkyrja [valkyrie]; thereafter, the Old Norse term will be the one employed.

The nornir are intriguing figures in the mythology. Playing predominantly cameo parts, they remain shadowy background figures and most of their appearances consist of brief references to their dealings behind the backs of human beings. We rarely get clear representations of who and what . . .

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