Everything we know about Norse religion is wrong?

Started by Hydra009, April 09, 2023, 08:41:17 PM

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So, I was doing some light reading on Norse religion, essentially doing beginner-level coursework on the subject and I came upon something that shocked me:

The main reason we know so much about Norse religion is that there were two written accounts of their religion, the Poetic Edda and the Prose Edda.  However, both written accounts were likely penned AFTER Christians started Christianizing scandinavia.  The Prose Edda was compiled/written by Snorri Sturluson, who was himself a Christian.

Therefore, it's likely that such accounts of Norse religion may have been distorted by Christianity and do not completely accurately represent the religious stories of pre-Christian Norse.

In particular, the Norse God Balder has some strikingly Jesus-like characteristics.  And since Balder plays a key role in the ending of the Ragnarok story, it's possible that this tale had an entirely different ending altogether (the death of the old Gods, Balder alone lives on and founds a new society is about as on-the-nose as you can get for an area undergoing Christianization).

Also, the dark elves and light elves might reflect a dualistic mentality promoted by the three Abrahamic religions and Zoroastrianism and maybe but maybe not Norse religion.  So that might be something else altered by Christian influence.

So my long-winded question is this: Do we know what the Norse actually believed?  In other words, can we trust 13th century written accounts to accurately convey Norse religion as it was practiced centuries prior?


I keep on writing literal essays, so unless anyone wants that...

QuoteDo we know what the Norse actually believed?

We know what "some" Norse believe, and largely of a small caste of warriors and nobles. While figures like Thor did show up often amongst peasants, it seems like the local deities (rocks, springs, cool trees, etc.) were probably just as important in their own ways.

The "Norse" faith also is unfortunately misleading (though an accurate phrase) in that what we know as "Norse" was also once Celt, Germanic, Slavic - these three concepts were loose generalizations that Roman writers (who might have never even met a Celt, German or Slav in their life) used to segregate the strange foreigners beyond the Legion's forts - the distinctions are often far blurrier than the Roman's portrayed and is likely about as accurate as saying "Asian" culture... but like "Asian culture" its as accurate as the English language is going to get for now.

Getting into essay territory, so I want to just say a short story and share a photo...

At Uppsala, it is said that there was a sacred cow that was lead before the army when the King waged war - it was said his bellow was magic, and the opposing army would turn their spear and axe upon one another when it cried.

Across the Baltic, amber - of incredible value across the Ancient World - made it's way down from the Baltics along with timber and furs that would link up with the silkroad through Ukraine; up to Scandinavia in return would come metal goods, jewelry and of course monks and traders with fantastic tales of far away lands and their people.

This is a recent find from 5th century Denmark, portraying the wearer of it "Odin's Man" - the swastika being fairly frequently associated with Odin in Dark Age/Viking Age art.

I would wager that while Baldr is almost certainly a Christian-influenced deity (likely existed and had his story... "improved"... by Christian missionaries trying to find a way to work their god into the mythos), I would wager the dualism and cosmology of the Norse mythology is largely influenced mostly by the Indo-European Vedic cosmology more than Abrahamic faiths - when you start digging, you find that indigenous/folk religion from Spain to India really shares an incredible amount of overlaps (particularly in deities and understanding of the structure of the universe).

It's actually a shame; in an alternative universe where Rome isn't given an OP starting location and enforces it's beliefs on everyone else it's more than reasonable to think that Europe might still be polytheist to this day and close friends with India rather than foreigners.
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