Nordic Mythology

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Witches in Pre-Christian Scandinavia
• Why are we looking at this? it is very different from Christianity, has a different model of the witch • the other reason: Christianity adopted many elements from Norse mythology and transformed them

Film Clip: The Witches, Opening Scene: set in Norway

Questions for class: what is said about good and evil

The description of the witch

What is she wearing?

What do you know about Nordic Mythology?

Nordic Paganism

• is characterized by a polytheistic world-view (they believed in many Gods) • the official conversion to Christianity took place in the 10th, 11th and 12th centuries, very late compared with the rest of Europe (Roman Empire 4th century, England 7th century, Germany 9th century); • Christianity was introduced in Iceland around the year 1000 by parliamentary decree; in 1164 a Christian bishop ruled in Uppsala/Sweden; in Greenland the first cathedral was built in the year 1126 • Conversion took a long time: pagan practices and the pagan world-view continued unofficially for a long time; the private practice of pagan rituals was never outlawed and lived on in secret, missionaries witnessed them, wrote about them • Syncretism: union, reconciliation of diverse beliefs

• Coexistence of pagan and Christian practices: the dual use hammer-cross; pray to Thor and the Christian god • Professional magicians and witches: made a livelihood by the exercise of magical powers: finding of lost objects, forecasting the season’s crops

Cosmology

• First there is nothing, this emptiness is called Ginnungagap (Niflheim, home of mists, is to the North) • the earth is a round disk that swims on the surface of the ocean • there is a world tree, Yggdrasill, spreads its branches over the whole world • a world serpent (coiled around one of the three roots of the tree, bites its own tail, in a well, gnaws at the root of the tree) • the sun is a beautiful woman in a chariot chased by wolves • The end of the world: Ragnarok

• Valhalla: hall where dead warriors dine, every day of eternity they fight a battle and then feast on a boar • Valkyries: literally chooser of the slain, accompany dead warriors to Valhalla and serve them drinks, wear armor and ride on horseback

THE GODS
• hierarchy of Gods, of the Pantheon, like the Greek Gods had it • the Gods were constantly in conflict with each other: there was a war between two different groups of Gods, the Vanirs [Von-ers] and the Aesirs [eye-seers], and the gods are fighting the giants

Sky Gods

• the sky gods (Aesir) live in Asgard, in the middle of Midgard = Middle Earth where they feast and drink from golden plates and golden cups • bridge Bifröst joins Asgard to other worlds, gate guarded by Heimdall • they are responsible for maintaining the cosmic order and society they include Odin

• he is the boss of all the gods
• he (and his two brothers) created the first two humans, Ask and Embla, from two trees • blue mantle, long gray beard, one eye, spear
• eight-legged horse
• his animal is the raven, two ravens (thought and memory) that would bring him news • he is the god of poetry and the god of magic and wisdom (can inspire a trance-like state of ecstasy in his followers), god of war and death • there were human sacrifices to Odin (they would hang men from trees and pierce them with spears) Frigg(a)

• his wife (there were other wives)
Odin’s son Thor
• associated with lightening and thunder, the thunderer, the rattling of his chariot was said to cause thunder • he is red-bearded, has iron gloves and a belt of strength • his main job: to fight the giants;

• he eats and drinks a lot
• his weapon is the hammer, he used the hammer to hold the forces of chaos in check, he would hurl it and it would always return to his hand; often the hammer looked like a cross • the day Thursday is named after him

Balder, Baldur
• he is the son of Odin and Frigga
• wise and merciful...
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