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Creativity, Magic, and The Mead of Poetry

Mead of PoetryThe war between the Vanir and the Aesir ended in a truce, symbolized by the two warring factions spitting into into a jar, that was then fashioned into a man – the wisest of men – Kvasir, who could answer any question. Kvasir traveled far and wide, sharing his wisdom, until he came to the home of two dwarfs, Fjalar and Galar. The dwarfs told him that they wanted to speak with him, but when they had lured him to a secluded place they murdered him, instead, and drained his blood into two jars (Son and Bodn) and the kettle Odrarer. They added honey to the blood of Kvasir and mixed it, creating the mead of poetry, a magical drink that when imbibed could turn anyone into a scholar or poet. They told the gods that Kvasir had choked on his wisdom, and considered the matter settled. (more…)

Snorri’s Euhemerism: Truth, Imagination, and Motive

EuhemerismOdin is the god of wisdom, who sacrificed himself for knowledge as he hung, wounded, for nine nights in the tree Yggdrasil. He is a master of runes, who took knowledge from Vafthrúdnir, the wisest of giants, and even from Hel, herself. He stole the mead of poetry, a drink of which can make anyone an artist, and as king of Valhöll presides over half of the dead, who fight and are reborn in an endless cycle, as they wait for the end of the world. He is the father of Thor, as well as Váli and Vídar, who will survive Ragnarok, and the banisher of the Midgard Serpent, Fenrir the wolf, and Hel. But did he come from the human imagination, or was he a real person? What bias might drive believing one thing, or the other? (more…)

The Poetic Edda by Carolyne Larrington (Review)

The Poetic EddaThe Poetic Edda is one of the main sources for Norse mythology, a book of poems culled primarily from the Codex Regius. It was a good thing that I’d read Snorri’s Edda first, as well as other, more expansive works – for me, The Poetic Edda was more about supplementing and contextualizing existing knowledge – or it would have been pretty hard to get a grip on. Like Snorri’s work, The Poetic Edda is important to anyone who wants to go a few steps beyond storytelling and interpretation to original source material. Though I was satisfied with the translation, as I’m sure is clear I found it to be a bit of a slog; I’m less interested in heroes and sagas (which fill much of The Poetic Edda) than I am in the histories and stories of the Norse gods – their meanings, and symbolic value. Given that, and the fact that my goal is to reach a level of expertise that allows me to think about and comment on what I’m reading, rather than indulge in true scholarship, parts of The Poetic Edda were only of marginal interest to me. All that said, I’m glad I read it – no survey of Norse mythology would be complete if The Poetic Edda was left on the table.

Thor on One Knee: The Limits of Power

LimitsWhen Thor and Loki reached Utgard, they found it to be so massive in size that they could enter by squeezing through the bars of the front gate. They found the king – Utgard-Loki – so huge that he barely noticed his diminutive guests. When he did, he asked them if they had any special skills, that could be pitted against the members of his court. What followed was a defeat that not only humiliated Thor and Loki, but spoke to the nature of the Norse gods, and of the limits that we all live with. (more…)

Edda, by Snorri Sturluson (Review… sort of)

Edda ImageUsually I think of Edda as “The Edda,” or “The Prose Edda,” partially because I’m reading The Poetic Edda now, and it’s an easy way of keeping them segregated in my mind. Snorri’s Edda is one of the two (the other is The Poetic Eddaprimary sources for Norse mythology. It’s an important work in its own right, but it should be stated that the Edda takes some focus to get through – it’s not as interesting to a casual, modern reader as some of the other books on Norse mythology I’ve collected, that present the material in a more storified form. That said, the Edda is an essential part of any serious (even if small) library of works on Norse mythology: if you’re trying to study the Norse pantheon even a little bit (as I am), you’ve got to get a good version of the Edda. If you just want to know a little more about Odin, Thor, Loki and their adventures, I’d probably get the Davidson book. You can’t really review Sturluson’s work (written almost a thousand years ago), you just have to work your way through it and appreciate it for what it is. As usual, I got the kindle edition, which was nice and cheap, and allowed me to add notes and highlights to the text.

From Mjolnir to Brsingamen: Identity, Possessions, and Godhood

IdentityWhen Thor woke up, his hammer was missing. He “shook his head,” “tossed his hair to and fro” (The Poetic Edda), groped around, and finally called to Loki, saying “the God has been robbed of his hammer.” The two of them went to see Freyja (Freyia), and borrowed her feather-shirt, which Loki used to fly from the land of the Aesir to Giant-land, only to find that Thrym – “lord of the ogres” – had stolen the thunder god’s hammer and hidden it deep in the earth. It would never be taken, the giant swore, unless Freyja was brought to him, to be his bride. (more…)