Traditional Viking Religion

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  • Topic: Norse mythology, Loki, Odin
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  • Published : December 1, 2010
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Traditional Viking Religion
The Vikings’ religious beliefs were constantly changing and evolving. They had many different ways of worshiping, and viewing their gods. It was dependent completely on where you lived, in what era, and what your social class was, though the Vikings weren’t very strict on this.

Most of these beliefs were recorded after Christianity had already taken hold of the Viking culture. But, it seems that under their outer appearance of ‘good little Christians’, they were still telling the stories based on their original beliefs. These stories and myths ended up being documented in three different ways: Poetic Edda, Skaldic poetry, and Prose Edda. Poetic Edda was a compilation of poems written in Iceland just after the mid-thirteenth century. They came from all over Scandinavia, which includes the countries of present-day Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden. Skaldic poetry was written mostly in the ninth century, but is very complex, and therefore difficult for most people to understand. The Icelandic poet, politician, and historian, Snorri Sturluson, wrote Prose Edda in the 1220s. Prose Edda is the most commonly used resource on Viking mythology today, because it was Sturluson’s goal to revive (but also explain) the skaldic art. Along with his poems, he had a key of sorts that made understanding his work possible. (Wolf 148-149)

Some Vikings believed that the world was made up of several circles of different worlds; all of them connected in some way. Others believed in the nine worlds that were all connected by the world tree, referred to as Yggdrasil (Roberts). Yggdrasil was at the center of the world, and had nine roots, each root branching out to one of the worlds.

At the bottom of everything was Niflheim, the world of the dead. This realm is ruled by the death-goddess, Hel. She named a portion of Niflheim after herself. Unlike its Christian counterpart when it comes to the world of the dead, Niflheim is a land of ice, not fire. There is a root leading into Niflheim, and one leading directly into Hel. Then came the land of the giants, Jotunheim. It is also sometimes called Utgard (Wolf 149); it was mostly known as the land of monsters, and enemies of the gods. After this, came a realm that there isn’t much to known about: Nidavellir, the realm of dwarfs. Next came three realms of almost equal rank. The two elf lands, Svartalfheim, the land of the dark elves, and Alfheim, the domain of the light elves. Alfheim was thought to be at the same level as the middle world, where humans dwelt, known as wither Midgard or The Middle Yard. Then at the top of everything were the two different major realms where gods lived: Asgard, where the Aesier gods and goddesses lived, and Vanaheim, where the Vanier (another tribe of gods and goddesses that were more nature focused than the Asier) lived. In Asgard and Vanaheim each deity lived in his or her own kingdom. It was believed that a flaming rainbow bridge called Bifrost, connected Midgard to the worlds where the gods lived.

There were also two other realms that weren’t connected to Yggdrasil. These were Muspell, and Ginnungagap. Muspell was the land of the Fire Giants, and demons, ruled by Surt (Roberts), who plays a vital role in both the beginning and the end of the world. Ginnungagap is the Void of Chaos, where life began. It separates Niflheim and Muspell.

In the beginning, before even humans or gods there were three realms: Muspell, Niflheim, and Ginnungagap. In between Muspell and Niflheim two creatures were formed; a gargantuan frost giant, Ymir, and a huge cow, Andumla. Ymir drank some of Andumal’s milk and grew strong. After this development, the first giants sprung out of Ymir’s legs and armpits (Roberts). Then while Andumla was licking the salty ice, it uncovered the first god: Buri. He had a son by a giantess, Bestla. This son, Bor, fathered three sons with the giantess Bestla: Odin, Vili, and Ve (godchecker ink.). These three...
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