Myths and Symbols in Pagan Europe: Early Scandinavian and Celtic Religions

Myths and Symbols in Pagan Europe: Early Scandinavian and Celtic Religions

Myths and Symbols in Pagan Europe: Early Scandinavian and Celtic Religions

Myths and Symbols in Pagan Europe: Early Scandinavian and Celtic Religions

Excerpt

They were in reduced circumstances, yes; and the world (they thought) had grown hard and old and desperately ordinary; but they were descended from a race of bards and heroes, and there had once been an age of gold, and the earth around them was all alive and densely populated, though the present times were too coarse to see it. They had all gone to sleep, as children, to those old stories; and later they courted with them; and told them to their own children.

John Crowley, Little Big, VI, 3

Many people, if only through an acquaintance with the works of Wagner, have heard of Wotan or his northern counterpart Odin, and of the valkyries in the hall of Valhalla. Some have come upon the legend of Balder the Beautiful, slain by a shaft of mistletoe, which inspired a long poem by Matthew Arnold and provided the title of one of the volumes of Frazer Golden Bough. Others have heard of the great hammer of Thor, the northern thunder-god, and of the mischievous practices of Loki, the arch-trickster. They may have assumed such tales to be pure entertainment, or the simple legends of a credulous people, not to be taken seriously. Those however who have encountered the conception of the northern Ragnarok, when the gods go down fighting against the giants, and the world of living beings is engulfed by fire and covered by the advancing sea, may appreciate the strength and power of the Scandinavian myths and want to know more of the religious beliefs which inspired them. Are there, for instance, any links between the mythical world of Odin and Thor and that pictured in another rich collection of tales, the doings of the Túatha Dé Danann of Ireland, the figures of Lug and the Dagda and their dealings with kings and heroes? Is it possible, as Dumézil believed, to fit these Norse and Irish legends into a general pattern of Indo-European religious beliefs, extending back far into prehistory? The answers to such questions depends on how much evidence can be found for religious practices and the conception of a supernatural world existing as a background to the old tales.

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