by Mary Rousslang
This past spring, I had the opportunity to participate in a course, “Norse Mythology,” through Humanities North Dakota (Humanitiesnd.org). Humanities ND is a non-profit lifelong learners’ community that offers a wide variety of courses throughout the year. The course’s professor, Dr. Natalie Van Deusen is a graduate of Concordia. She holds a Ph.D. in Scandinavian Studies from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “Norse Mythology” was of special interest to me since I celebrate my Norwegian heritage and love learning more about it.
Goals of the course included the study of origins and characteristics of religion from early times through the Viking Age and the influences on the development of that religion. The first settlers of the area we know as Norway had followed the reindeer as the ice melted in the Stone Age. Relics found in the bogs of Norway show examples of weapons, tools, artifacts of religion, and other cultural clues. Much of what we know today came from the stories and tales orally transmitted from one generation to another.
The earliest written works were documented by Christian monks who settled in the Nordic countries around the 10th century after the conversion to Christianity. It is estimated that 90% of medieval literature has been lost. Th at’s like trying to put a jigsaw puzzle together with 10 pieces of a 100-piece picture. What does that mean for us? The only history we have of our Scandinavian ancestors is interpreted oral history and we only have a small amount of it. We do know that the people of the Viking age relied on mythology to help explain the creation of the world and its mysteries. These myths helped make some sense of life, death, seasons, and everyday experiences. The gods and goddesses were looked to for aid in coping and succeeding.
Snorri Sturluson (1179-1241) Icelandic historian, poet, and politician, is credited with writing the Prose Edda and other works which are major sources for what today is known as Norse Mythology. Considered a leading expert is John Lindow and his book, Norse Mythology can be found in our Sons of Norway library.
The many gods and goddesses of Norse Mythology have become increasingly popular again in our culture as have some of the main stories for which they are famous. Odin, All-Father, Thor, son of Odin and god of thunder, Frigga, wife of Odin and mother of Balder the kind and gentle god, Freyja, goddess of fertility and let us not forget Loki, the trickster. Ragnarok, the end of the world, influences all of life. Honor and revenge are major plots in the sagas of the gods and goddesses. Fate cannot be changed but must be met with honor. Dreams are predictions and are often used as a motif for sagas. The Codex Regius found in the Poetic Edda describes how the world will end. The good news is after the destruction of all the gods, all of the goddesses, and the world a regeneration will begin. Think back to who is writing these sagas down and we see that regeneration will lead to a new era in religion that includes an end to paganism and the beginning of Christianity.
Recently, books, movies, TV, video games, and music have been influenced by Norse Mythology. These myths, sagas, and legends endure because they help explain the mysteries of life, they appeal to our search for connections to the past and provide us with superheroes. As descendants of the forefathers and foremothers of the Viking age, we celebrate that our ancestors were courageous, ingenious, inventive, inclusive, and dedicated to improving life around them. They had strong faithful family connections. We remember our Sons of Norway mission to promote and preserve the heritage and culture of Norway.