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Subscribe to this list via RSS Blog posts tagged in norse mythology

Posted by on in Studies Blogs
Meditations on Hávamál: 76-80



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Fireverse 6: Mythology is Subjective

Mythology is stories, and stories reflect the mind of the storyteller. We acknowledge that when we talk about how a given mythological tale reflects a culture and its level of scientific and social advancement. The individuals who told the stories also projected them through their own personal lenses, not only as members of their culture but as people with internal psychology.

One of the things I learned while writing Some Say Fire, in which I retold as much of the heathen lore as I could find along with original material inserted interstitially, is that it is impossible to write objective fiction about the gods no matter how hard I try. Even though I relate to the gods either as people with personalities or as nature, when I wrote fiction about them they inevitably turned into archetypes. For example, the ways that Fireverse Odin differs from traditional Odin all turned out to be about my real life deceased father. I didn't intend to do that. I didn't even realize that until after I had enough of a draft completed to show it to someone else and my critique partner pointed it out to me; I knew I had turned my problems over to my higher power by giving them to Loki, but I hadn't realized how much that distorted all the other characters in the story.

Only after I had dealt with those issues was I able to get past them and reach the real Odin. In mythology or fairy tale, the father figure is your father, the road is your path, and the mountain is whatever obstacle you yourself must overcome. Everything turns into dream symbolism.

This same phenomenon must surely have happened when the lore that we have received in written form was first written down. The lore contained in Snorri's Edda must therefore reflect Snorri the individual as much as it reflects the lore as he had heard it in his lifetime, and as much as it reflects his culture and the times he lived in.

Fireverse Odin turned into my father and Fireverse Loki my wounded inner child because those are the personal issues I needed to resolve through my creative writing. Snorri's Odin turned into Yahweh and his Loki turned into the Devil. As a Christian with recent heathen ancestors living in the time of conversion, watching his culture be destroyed by the very thing he most passionately believed in--the Church-- resolving the cognitive dissonance between his Christian beliefs and his love of the stories of his culture must have been his greatest psychological need.

The subjectivity of story, even mythology from an oral tradition, is something to keep in mind in interpreting the lore. Some of my fellow Asatruars treat the Eddas as if they were the word of the gods. The Eddas were written by men; men have human needs, including psychological needs. The storyteller shapes the story even if he tries not to.

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Posted by on in Studies Blogs
Meditations on Hávamál: 61-65
Þveginn ok mettr
ríði maðr þingi at,
þótt hann sé-t væddr til vel;
skúa ok bróka
skammisk engi maðr
né hests in heldr,
þótt hann hafi-t góðan
Washed and fed
shall a man ride to the Thing,
though he be not clothed well;
of his shoes and his britches
should no man be ashamed
nor of his horse neither,
though he not a good one.

The Thing was the assembly to settle differences, plead suits and socialise in all kids of ways; in Iceland, the annual national gathering, the Alþingi is still the name for their governing body though the no longer meet out in the valley in tents (a few politicians have suggested that doing so would make the government work a little faster). Traditionally the law speaker recited at least a third of the laws that he had to keep memorised. Thus legal matters were decided there: as much as Icelanders pride themselves on having the longest existing democracy, the medieval version demonstrates that might (usually through having supporters, but sometimes through outright violence) made right. This verse counsels that one must make the best appearance possible. If your clothes were not the best at least make sure they are clean and mended, your shoes clean and your horse stepping out the best she can, even if she wasn't going to win any races -- or in the case of male horses, any fights. Horse fights were a brutal but popular sport.
Snapir ok gnapir,
er til sævar kemr,
örn á aldinn mar;
svá er maðr,
er með mörgum kemr
ok á formælendr fáa.
Snapping and stretching,
when it comes to the sea,
the eagle to the billowy sea;
so is the man,
who among the crowds comes
and has few supporters.

The man without sufficient supporters is like the eagle who swoops down at a fish only to see it disappear beneath the waves. Don't wait until you get to the gathering to form your alliances. Much of viking life was about gift giving and hospitality because you never knew when you would need an important ally. Feuds could break out over fairly small disagreements -- about where your land ended and your neighbour's began, or who got to use a certain path to summer pasturing.Alliances were essential.
Fregna ok segja
skal fróðra hverr,
sá er vill heitinn horskr;
einn vita
né annarr skal,
þjóð veit, ef þrír ro.
Ask and reply
shall each of the wise ones,
he who wants to be called sensible;
one must know
but another shall not,
all the people know, if three do.

Wisdom is highly prized: we have seen several verses on that topic. But being able to hold your own counsel is also important, the poet tells us. You should shrink from sharing secrets with anyone at all if you can avoid it. If you tell someone and they tell a third, then the secret will not be kept and everyone shall know. If you are heading to the Thing and bringing a suit, it's best not to let the cat out of the bag until you are certain you have sufficient support.
Ríki sitt
skyli ráðsnotra
hverr í hófi hafa;
þá hann þat finnr,
er með fræknum kemr
at engi er einna hvatastr.
His power
should each of the wise
have in moderation;
then he finds that
when he comes among the bold
that none is keenest of all.
Power in this sense seems to be connected to the idea of anger (as the wise man said, 'Anger is an energy.') I connect it with the previous verse: just as you should not show your cards until you're ready with a firm phalanx of supporters, you should not show your anger until you read the room (or the tent). If your opponent is even more angry, he may be able to sway your supporters -- perhaps simply to not support your action, but worse, over to your opponent's side. Hold your anger in check: the sagas are full of unwise men who let their emotions lead them into rash decisions.
-- -- -- --
orða þeira,
er maðr öðrum segir
oft hann gjöld of getr.
[missing lines]
For those words,
which a man says to another
often he gets repayment.

In a similar vein, your angry words can be repaid by more of the same, while your measured speech may meet with likewise thoughtful responses. In the medieval world people were much more cognizant of being part of a community. Ostracism -- including outlawry and banishment -- put people in a truly vulnerable position that many could not survive. Men like the famous Grettir only survived such a fate because they were able to call upon both the friends they had made prior to being banished and were extraordinary enough to convince people to offer help despite the risks of aiding a fugitive.
See more of the verses here.
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Pagan News Beagle: Airy Monday, August 10

Welcome back to Airy Monday, our weekly take on pop culture as it relates to magic and religion. This week our topic of discussion is identity: what it means to you, what it means to us, and what it means to others. Join us as we take a look at racebending, feminism, and the importance of representation in this week's edition. All this and more for the Pagan News Beagle!

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Posted by on in Studies Blogs
Meditations on Hávamál: 57-60
Brandr af brandi
brenn, unz brunninn er,
funi kveikisk af funa;
maðr af manni
verðr at máli kuðr,
en til dælskr af dul.
Torch from a torch
burns, until it burns out,
flame kindles itself from flame;
man from a man
knows truth from speaking,
but folly from the fool.

Like breeds like we might say: just as the flame passes from torch to torch, so the light of learning passes from a wise one to a willing student. It burns brightly as long as there is fuel for it -- an eager mind. It's a constant refrain of the verses, but if you listen to fools you learn nothing but foolishness. Be mindful of where you sit. Better silence than foolishness.
Ár skal rísa,
sá er annars vill
fé eða fjör hafa;
sjaldan liggjandi ulfr
lær of getr
né sofandi maðr sigr.
He must rise [early]
who would gladly have
the wealth or life;
seldom will the lolling wolf
get the lamb's thigh
nor the sleeping man victory.

We know all about the early bird getting the worm; here the advice is the same but with the vivid example of the busy wolf grabbing the lamb's 'ham' or thigh. The sleeping warrior will not get victory any more than the sleeping wolf her dinner.
Ár skal rísa,
sá er á yrkjendr fáa,
ok ganga síns verka á vit;
margt of dvelr,
þann er um morgin sefr,
hálfr er auðr und hvötum.
He must rise early
who has few workers,
and get right to his work;
many things will delay,
he who in the morning slumbers,
yet half the wealth to he who's keen.

In typical Nordic litotes, to have 'few workers' is to have only yourself. Rise up early and don't procrastinate, because there is no one else you can count on. Half delayed is half unpaid! While this may seem more puritan than viking, they have in common a harsh life with a lot of tedious chores to maintain food and comfort.
Þurra skíða
ok þakinna næfra,
þess kann maðr mjöt,
þess viðar,
er vinnask megi
mál ok misseri.
Of dry sticks
and bark roofing,
of this a man ought know the measure;
of this wood
which should last
a quarter or a sixmonths.

This stanza is a little more tricky. The basic sense is clear enough: practical knowledge will save you work. Knowing what kind of wood lasts longest before you use it as roofing is very wise. It plays with the concept of 'measure' both as a way to evaluate knowledge and as actually measuring wood for building. The lengths of time aren't terms we use as often now; some translators just use "short and long" for the seasons, but clearly the difference was more specific and meaningful in this agricultural community.
See also Meditations on Hávamál, 52-56, Meditations on Hávamál, 48-51, Meditations on Hávamál, 44-47, Meditations on Hávamál, 40-43, Meditations on Hávamál, 35-39, Meditations on Hávamál, 31-34, Meditations on Hávamál, 27-30, Meditations on Hávamál, 23-26, Meditations on Hávamál, 19-22, Meditations on Hávamál, 15-18, etc.

 I use the Evans edition of the poem to begin and compare with translations here and here. The original text comes from the Heimskringla site in Norway. I also received a new translation of The Poetic Edda from Hackett Publishing; when I get a chance, I'll review it.
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Nine maids,nine waves
Asleep upon the shore

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Posted by on in Culture Blogs


Below is my tribute to Freya, divinity #24 wrongfully placed the atheist's graveyard.  This is my continuing effort to learn about and post something on each divinity placed there.

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