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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…)

Gods and Myths of Northern Europe by H. R. Ellis Davidson (Review)

Norse MythologyThe easiest way to talk about Gods and Myths of Northern Europe by H. R. Ellis Davidson is to talk about it in relation to Norse Mythology: A Guide to the Gods, Heroes, Rituals and Beliefs by John Lindow. Both books cover much of the same ground and serve as solid guides to Norse mythology, but while Lindow’s book is organized more like an encyclopedia, with entries for everything from gods and goddesses to giants, objects, and events, Davidson’s book addresses Norse mythology through chapters (“The Gods of Battle”) that gather together related topics (“Odin, Lord of Hosts,” “The Germanic War Gods”) as subheadings. As a result, Gods and Myths of Northern Europe is easier to get into than Lindow’s book; it’s smoother, provides more context, and approached purely as a piece of non-fiction, is more enjoyable. (more…)

From Bifrost to Gjallarbru: The Bridge, in Dreams and Myths

BridgeSometimes I dream that I have to travel over a bridge that spans a great river, to get from one part of town to another. The bridge rises up so steeply that it’s closer to an arch, and there are no railings, just two narrow lanes of traffic, one going in each direction. The bridge terrifies me, but the other drivers seem unaware of the danger. The thing I remember the most strongly when I wake – details vary, dream to dream, but this never changes – is the sensation of tipping upwards at a steep angle, trying to keep the wheel straight, edge gravity pulling me towards oblivion as I tell myself that if I just keep going I’ll make it across. If I do, it’s a sure bet that before the dream is over, I’ll find myself on that bridge again, because getting to the other side hasn’t resolved the central issue – the anxiety I feel at crossing it.  (more…)

The Mother of Monsters: The Sisterhood of Lilith and Angrboda

AngrbodaIn the Hebrew myths, God formed Lilith from filth and sediment, rather than the pure dust from which Adam was created (Graves). When she refused to let him take the superior position during sex, saying “why must I lie beneath you? I also was made from dust, and am therefore your equal,” Adam tried to force her, whereupon Lilith fled to the Red Sea, a region full of demons whom she mated with, bearing lilim at a rate of hundreds per day. When Adam complained, God sent a trio of angels to compel Lilith to return under threat of drowning. Ultimately, she stayed at the banks of the Red Sea, but God punished her by making one hundred of her children die each day, and compelling her to destroy them, herself, when she couldn’t find a human child to murder. (more…)

What is Mythic Time?

Mythic TimeWhen did Höd kill Baldr? When is Ragnarök? Even more importantly, when was the world created? As a kid, I recognized intuitively that a lot of the myths that I was reading took place in an ill-defined present, but at the same time, there were origin stories – and endings – as well. My brain wanted to sort out the stories I was reading and put them in chronological order, but I knew that that wasn’t the way that they were originally conceived. Mythic time is an idea that makes perfect sense, once you understand it, and it applies not just to the stories we tell, but to our lives, as well.