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Scandinavian Mythology

Scandinavian gods, Scandinavian legends, Scandinavian people, Eddas, ancient heroes

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Scandinavian Mythology, pre-Christian religious beliefs of the Scandinavian people. The Scandinavian legends and myths about ancient heroes, gods, and the creation and destruction of the universe developed out of the original common mythology of the Germanic peoples and constitute the primary source of knowledge about ancient German mythology. Because Scandinavian mythology was transmitted and altered by medieval Christian historians, the original pagan religious beliefs, attitudes, and practices cannot be determined with certainty. Clearly, however, Scandinavian mythology developed slowly, and the relative importance of different gods and heroes varied at different times and places. Thus, the cult of Odin, chief of the gods, may have spread from western Germany to Scandinavia not long before the myths were recorded; minor gods—including Ull, the fertility god Njord, and Heimdall—may represent older deities who lost strength and popularity as Odin became more important. Odin, a god of war, was also associated with learning, wisdom, poetry, and magic.

Most information about Scandinavian mythology is preserved in the Old Norse literature, in the Eddas and later sagas; other material appears in commentaries by the Danish historian Saxo Grammaticus and the German writer Adam of Bremen (flourished about 1075). Fragments of legends are sometimes preserved in old inscriptions and in later folklore.

Creation Myth

The Eddic poem Voluspa (Prophecy of the Seeress) portrays a period of primeval chaos, followed by the creation of giants and gods and, finally, of humankind. Ginnungagap was the yawning void, Jotunheim the home of the giants, Niflheim the region of cold, and Muspellsheim the realm of heat. The great world-tree, Yggdrasil, reached through all time and space, but it was perpetually under attack from Nidhogg, the evil serpent. The fountain of Mimir, source of hidden wisdom, lay under one of the roots of the tree.

Religious Ritual

The Scandinavian gods were served by a class of priest-chieftains called godar. Worship was originally conducted outdoors, under guardian trees, near sacred wells, or within sacred arrangements of stones. Later, wooden temples were used, with altars and with carved representations of the gods. The most important temple was at Old Uppsala, Sweden, where animals and even human beings were sacrificed.

Article key phrases:

Scandinavian gods, Scandinavian legends, Scandinavian people, Eddas, ancient heroes, Scandinavian Mythology, minor gods, Seeress, Ginnungagap, Jotunheim, Nidhogg, Niflheim, Heimdall, Yggdrasil, Creation Myth, western Germany, sagas, altars, god of war, certainty, Prophecy, commentaries, human beings, animals, Sweden, magic, attitudes, time, poetry, universe, wisdom, learning, Worship, strength, creation, chief, gods, myths, destruction, material, home, outdoors, attack, places, popularity, practices, information

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