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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. read 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.  read 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. read 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.

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Norse Mythology: A Guide to the Gods, Heroes, Rituals, and Beliefs by John Lindow (Review)

Norse MythologyI was looking for way back – as an adult – into Norse mythology; picking up the kindle edition of Norse Mythology: A Guide to the Gods, Heroes, Rituals, and Beliefs by Lindow was a choice made after looking both at the reviews, and at the price: I’d like to accumulate a good number of books on Norse mythology over time, and because of this I’m very aware of cost, and format. I can highlight and annotate the kindle edition to my heart’s content, without having to mar a paper or hardback with a highlighter or pen (and try read my own handwriting in the margins, later). read more…

Fear and Surprise: The Dangers of Petrification

PetrificationOne day, a dwarf named Alvíss showed up at Bilskírnir, Thor’s hall, to collect his bride (one of Thor’s daughters). Since Thor was away at the time of the betrothal, he took issue with this, saying that he would only allow Alvíss to leave with his daughter (Thrud) if the dwarf could tell him everything he wanted to know. Thor proceeded to ask Alvíss a series of questions, mostly having to do with the names of things and their classifications, running from the cosmic to the mundane. A takeaway from this story might be “don’t engage in contests with the gods,” because after keeping Alvíss busy through the night, daylight shone through the hall, and Thor’s trap was sprung: he declared Alvíss “dayed out” as the sunlight petrified (or possibly shattered) the poor dwarf, whose only mistake was looking in the wrong place for a life partner. So it goes, but why is there so much petrification in mythology, anyway, and what does it mean, to be turned to stone?

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My hope is to use this blog as one of a few ways (along with fiction, essays, and articles) that I study and think about mythology, magic, and monsters. I won't write about everything I come across - just the stuff that seems a little more obscure or that makes me think. I'll review the works I read as I go (using the category Syllabus), in case anyone wants to read more.
Mythology, Magic, and Monsters
I pulled the above poster from an issue of Dynamite magazine in 1978: the spookiness, the monsters (both visible and hidden) seemed somehow significant to me at the time. Thirty-five years later, not much has changed.