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Author Topic: Radical interpretations of Norse mythology  (Read 3047 times)

Juniperberry

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Re: Radical interpretations of Norse mythology
« Reply #15 on: September 21, 2014, 09:59:09 pm »
Quote from: MattyG;159403
Is this a common view in heathen practice, because I've never heard that particular interpretation of the Baldr myth.



*shrug* I dunno.

Quote
I have heard that there was probably a point (before the writing of the Eddas) at which the Baldr myth was meant to be cyclical, as an explanation for the long, dark winters,


Baldr as an agricultural deity or a cyclical deity would work if Baldr came back.

He doesn't. He's dead-dead.


Quote
but I've never heard of his death making death for all permanent. I'd be interested if you have any sources backing up this interpretation (though I don't believe that historical sources are necessary for modern interpretation). It's intriguing and it reminds me of a Native American Coyote story I've read.


I actually can't find my sources. Sorry! This was a few years ago down the rabbit hole, and the tablet that held most of my downloads was replaced. I can tell you I found mention in a side note that Lindow disagrees with the interpretation that Baldr introduced death, so I know it's there somewhere. I'll keep my eye out, because I'm thinking it was either DeVries or H.D.

Quote
Personally, my understanding of the myth is that death was always considered permanent in Norse cosmology, but that Hel was willing to make an exception for Baldr if the gods could accomplish an impossible task.


My interpretation is a bit opposite. Death wasn't an absolute yet at all. Mimir had his head chopped off and still gave advice to Odin. Gullveig was burned alive three times and still survived. Volvas were pulled from graves and gave great advice. But when Baldr reached the underworld, he became Hel's favorite guest and she didn't want to give him up. She didn't want to make an exception this time, and so she gave the impossible task. She tested her limits, the gods failed, a god was dead-dead, and from then on, all things stayed dead-dead. This is why Baldr's death changed everything and set the stage for Ragnarok (the Twilight of the Gods).  



Quote
Also, I wonder how much the enmity between the Aesir and Jotuns was played up by the eventual compilers of the Eddas (and most modern heathens I've spoken to as well). Certainly all the Jotuns must also have been weeping for Baldr's death, so they can't be entirely filled with hate as some would claim.


I agree. I don't think they are filled with hate at all, really. You said earlier that the gods steal Jotun women. There's mystical symbolism at play here. Only gods can mate with giantesses and not vice versa. (Except for Loki's parents, which is another aspect of his puzzle.) This has something to do with the idea of  the sterile/destructive nature of Jotuns. The men are generally not creators, they can't plant seeds. They could steal Freyja but never create from her, and then her fertility would be absent from the world. Men are actively sterile and create more sterility (a drought can spawn many dry fields), while the women are passive. Freyr can marry Gerd and fertilize her fallow fields. (Lots of euphemisms, sorry!)
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Re: Radical interpretations of Norse mythology
« Reply #16 on: September 22, 2014, 12:31:41 am »
Quote from: MattyG;159180


Essentially, what I want to know is why I should side with the Aesir when they seem to be the equivalent of pretty much any imperial, conquering force that harms indigenous people to establish their own "order"?

 
I'm not a heathen, but--as I've posted in another thread--this struck me forcefully when I read the prose Edda, and that's without me having the benefit of any scholarly interpretation or study of the matter. Maybe it's my tendency to sympathize with the underdog, but I found myself constantly rooting for the jotnar and getting irritated at their treatment by the Aesir.
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MattyG

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Re: Radical interpretations of Norse mythology
« Reply #17 on: September 22, 2014, 01:24:20 am »
Quote from: Juniperberry;159724
Baldr as an agricultural deity or a cyclical deity would work if Baldr came back.

He doesn't. He's dead-dead.


Yes. This is a hypothetical version of the myth that may have existed before Christianity was introduced to the Norse and before the stories were written down.



Quote
My interpretation is a bit opposite. Death wasn't an absolute yet at all. Mimir had his head chopped off and still gave advice to Odin. Gullveig was burned alive three times and still survived. Volvas were pulled from graves and gave great advice. But when Baldr reached the underworld, he became Hel's favorite guest and she didn't want to give him up. She didn't want to make an exception this time, and so she gave the impossible task. She tested her limits, the gods failed, a god was dead-dead, and from then on, all things stayed dead-dead. This is why Baldr's death changed everything and set the stage for Ragnarok (the Twilight of the Gods).


That is an interesting approach.

Juniperberry

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Re: Radical interpretations of Norse mythology
« Reply #18 on: September 22, 2014, 02:17:58 am »
Quote from: MattyG;159747
Yes. This is a hypothetical version of the myth that may have existed before Christianity was introduced to the Norse and before the stories were written down.


That's hard to imagine, though, because Baldr's death is the main conflict of the entire dramatic structure of the Norse myths and without it there isn't any plot. It would just be a bunch of giants and gods playing tit-for-tat from here until eternity. Which would suck for humans, because we'd simply be collateral damage trampled upon in a pointless game of tug of war between childishly conceited forces!

....


....

Ooooh.
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Re: Radical interpretations of Norse mythology
« Reply #19 on: September 22, 2014, 03:23:04 am »
Quote from: Juniperberry;159751
... the main conflict of the entire dramatic structure of the Norse myths and without it there isn't any plot.

 
It occurs to me that that level of plot cohesion is not really typical of bodies of mythology - while in a great many instances that could conceivably be because the cohesion has been lost/fragmented, the much-better-documented Greek mythology doesn't really have it. I'm insufficiently familiar with other well-documented ones, such as the mythology of the Vedic religions, to say for sure, but from what I do recall, they don't have that degree of cohesion either.

That, in turn, suggests that 'dramatic structure with plot cohesion' could be something that Snorri and other recorders of that time period constructed.

But, like Altair, I am not Heathen, so I'm just going 'hmm... things that make you go hmmm' about it, for whatever it's worth.

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Juniperberry

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Re: Radical interpretations of Norse mythology
« Reply #20 on: September 22, 2014, 03:41:39 am »
Quote from: SunflowerP;159758
It occurs to me that that level of plot cohesion is not really typical of bodies of mythology - the much-better-documented Greek mythology doesn't really have it.


Yeah, as soon as I started typing it out I immediately thought of Classical mythology and it hit me that that's been one of the main (?) points to many a pagan religion: the gods are capricious, and life is fickle. Deal.


Quote
But, like Altair, I am not Heathen, so I'm just going 'hmm... things that make you go hmmm' about it, for whatever it's worth.

 
No, I'm "hmming" right along with you both. This sort of puts a twist on how I'm going to view things from this point forward.
The pace of progress in artificial intelligence (I’m not referring to narrow AI) is incredibly fast. [...] The risk of something seriously dangerous happening is in the five year timeframe. 10 years at most.--Elon Musk

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Re: Radical interpretations of Norse mythology
« Reply #21 on: September 22, 2014, 11:42:07 am »
Quote from: Juniperberry;159761
Yeah, as soon as I started typing it out I immediately thought of Classical mythology and it hit me that that's been one of the main (?) points to many a pagan religion: the gods are capricious, and life is fickle. Deal.

I think narrativising other people's mythology is also a thing that people just do sometimes, and it's something that I think is particularly risky when done by an outsider.  I think outsiders in particular (like Snorri, in this case) will be more tempted to take things that are actually within their context unrelated and try to make them consistent with each other and fit a grander story, or see superficial connections and want to blow them into something much larger.

(I tend towards the gut feeling that the Greeks were among the most narrative-y of ancient European/Mediterranean polytheisms, and if even their mythology didn't have Total Plot Cohesion, well.)
« Last Edit: September 22, 2014, 11:42:33 am by Darkhawk »
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yennork

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Re: Radical interpretations of Norse mythology
« Reply #22 on: September 22, 2014, 11:53:06 am »
Quote from: SunflowerP;159758
It occurs to me that that level of plot cohesion is not really typical of bodies of mythology - while in a great many instances that could conceivably be because the cohesion has been lost/fragmented, the much-better-documented Greek mythology doesn't really have it. I'm insufficiently familiar with other well-documented ones, such as the mythology of the Vedic religions, to say for sure, but from what I do recall, they don't have that degree of cohesion either.

That, in turn, suggests that 'dramatic structure with plot cohesion' could be something that Snorri and other recorders of that time period constructed.


But, like Altair, I am not Heathen, so I'm just going 'hmm... things that make you go hmmm' about it, for whatever it's worth.

Sunflower


My bolding.

Remember that Snorri was a Christian, in a Christian country. He was also a scholar, aristochrat, very proud of his ancestry and his homeland and he was worried that the old ways of composing poetry would disappear. So he wrote a book on how to write old-fashioned poetry. But to compose and understand such poems, you had to know about the old, heathen stories and poems. So he included those.

Thus, the Poetic Edda.

Now, it's obvious he models a lot on the Greek and Roman pantheons, like all the gods living together and many of them being the childern of a main god. He also made sure to make a connection (in Heimsklringla, if I remember right)to the Trojan war. That way, he made sure to tie his ancestors to the admired classical culture.

Snorri didn't make things up, but he certainly wrote his own story from the sources he had. And he was a good writer, still very readable unlike some of his contemporaries. (I mean, have you tried reading Saxo Grammaticus? Long-winded is the nicest I can say..)
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Re: Radical interpretations of Norse mythology
« Reply #23 on: September 22, 2014, 04:52:00 pm »
Quote from: MattyG;159323
I guess I understand what you're saying. However, I want to point out that, in my view, the Aesir are more like the brutal pimps in this situation than the petty criminals. I'm not saying that necessity never requires people to act in self-defense or to take in order to survive. Certainly violence is necessary when there are dominant power structures working against you. The question is, should you use that violence to enforce your own, unjust power structure?


I can sympathize with your concerns and even agree with your interpretation in the context you give it, but I know better than to expect the world to adapt itself to my views or expecting the right thing to be some kind of defense against those who have less honorable intentions. I see some psychology (especially survival instincts) at work here and don't think the evil (evil defined as willfully seeking to get ahead by harming others, which competition does not have to mean) is entirely conscious...but neither do I think that such instincts can be reasoned with. Most people, in my view, are neither overwhelming good (defined here as altruistic behavior) or evil (as previously defined), most just want to prosper (or at least survive) by the most expedient ways possible. Unfortunately, the evil are much more willing to lie, manipulate, and worse for their own aggrandizement and can incite evil behavior in otherwise mostly harmless people (and sometimes trick even the truly well-meaning in helping the evil). As some say, "Scum rises to the top."

I could share about an incident after I experienced Freya against racist skinheads into Odin (and one wore a Thor's Hammer) back when I was 15...though I still didn't know too much about Scandinavian mythology yet I already saw a difference between the Vanir and Aesir. Still, I saw my problem as being with those specific individuals rather than Odin and I didn't really care about the religion so much at all, there's overall good and bad apples no matter the name of the deity.  And as far as I can tell, all gods have a dark side (including Jesus) and even many gods of mischief and worse seem to have a positive side, or at least a purpose that can have good effects, and people can choose which energy of which god they associate with (or feel most kinship to). The only exceptions I can think of are those that I know very little about anyway.

In these civilized days the more warlike aspects and dark age values generally (I hope) aren't called upon or invoked anymore (at least not without a real good reason) but instead focus on a more enlightened aspects. As the culture changes, so does the religion, and I dare say culture does far more to change religion than religion does to change culture (though religion typically fights cultural change for better and worse before trying to steal the credit for inspiring change, much like politicians). No matter how grim the old tales are that shock modern sensibilities the people today typically don't live up to that part anymore. People tend to take the good and leave the rest behind.

The important part being that for all the atrocities of that old time religion, it's a rare pagan or monotheist today I worry about (at least not without a reason). I know most Christians would never condone slavery or burn people at the stake, I wouldn't worry about someone following the Aztec gods ripping out my heart, and I'm sure most Heathens who raise a cup in honor of Odin would make good neighbors I'd be glad to know. 'Course a thousand years ago I'd be ever vigilant against the lot of them, prepared to kill them if I must (and maybe even if I could) knowing they'd do worse to me at the least (and even no) provocation.
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yennork

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Re: Radical interpretations of Norse mythology
« Reply #24 on: September 22, 2014, 05:35:11 pm »
Quote from: yennork;159789
My bolding.

Remember that Snorri was a Christian, in a Christian country. He was also a scholar, aristochrat, very proud of his ancestry and his homeland and he was worried that the old ways of composing poetry would disappear. So he wrote a book on how to write old-fashioned poetry. But to compose and understand such poems, you had to know about the old, heathen stories and poems. So he included those.

Thus, the Poetic Edda.

Now, it's obvious he models a lot on the Greek and Roman pantheons, like all the gods living together and many of them being the childern of a main god. He also made sure to make a connection (in Heimsklringla, if I remember right)to the Trojan war. That way, he made sure to tie his ancestors to the admired classical culture.

Snorri didn't make things up, but he certainly wrote his own story from the sources he had. And he was a good writer, still very readable unlike some of his contemporaries. (I mean, have you tried reading Saxo Grammaticus? Long-winded is the nicest I can say..)

 
Correcting myself: NOT the Poetic Edda. Snorri's Edda. I tend to get those two mixed up.:o
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Juniperberry

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Re: Radical interpretations of Norse mythology
« Reply #25 on: September 22, 2014, 06:13:15 pm »
Quote from: yennork;159822
Correcting myself: NOT the Poetic Edda. Snorri's Edda. I tend to get those two mixed up.:o

 
Heh. That's why I always just say 'the Eddas'. :whis:
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Re: Radical interpretations of Norse mythology
« Reply #26 on: September 24, 2014, 12:05:55 am »
Quote from: yennork;159789
Now, it's obvious he models a lot on the Greek and Roman pantheons, like all the gods living together and many of them being the childern of a main god. He also made sure to make a connection (in Heimsklringla, if I remember right)to the Trojan war. That way, he made sure to tie his ancestors to the admired classical culture.

 
And, that sort of 'mythic history' narrative was fashionable around that time, as well (cf Geoffrey of Monmouth's Historia Regum Britanniae).

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MattyG

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Re: Radical interpretations of Norse mythology
« Reply #27 on: September 24, 2014, 01:22:12 am »
Quote from: SunflowerP;160077
And, that sort of 'mythic history' narrative was fashionable around that time, as well (cf Geoffrey of Monmouth's Historia Regum Britanniae).

Sunflower

 
Definitely. If we accepted that the surviving literature of Northern European paganism was completely representative of pre-Christian beliefs we'd have to accept that the ancient Irish traced their lineage back to Noah's flood.

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