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Posted on Sunday, August 28 - 2005

The Viking Age was a period of considerable religious change in Scandinavia. Part of the popular image of the Vikings is that they were all pagans, with a hatred of the Christian Church, but this view is very misleading.It is true that almost the entire population of Scandinavia was pagan at the beginning of the Viking Age, but the Vikings had many gods, and it was no problem for them to accept the Christian god alongside their own. Most scholars today believe that Viking attacks on Christian churches had nothing to do with religion, but more to do with the fact that monasteries were typically both wealthy andpoorly defended, making them an easy target for plunder.The Vikings came into contact with Christianity through their raids, and when they settled in lands with a Christian population, they adopted Christianity quite quickly.

This was true in Normandy, Ireland, and throughout the British Isles. Although contemporary accounts say little about this, we can see it in the archaeological evidence. Pagans buried their dead with grave goods, but Christians normally didn't, and this makes it relatively easy to spot the change in religion.As well as conversion abroad, the Viking Age also saw a gradual conversion in Scandinavia itself, as Anglo-Saxon and German missionaries arrived to convert the pagans. By the mid-11th century,Christianity was well established in Denmark and most of Norway. Although there was a temporary conversion in Sweden in the early 11th century, it wasn't until the mid-12th century that Christianity became established there. As part of the process of conversion the Christians took over traditional pagan sites. A good example of this can be seen at Gamle Uppsala in Sweden, where the remains of an early church stand alongside a series of huge pagan burial mounds.

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Posted on Thursday, July 09 - 2009

By Shane Dayton

Virtually every western religion or mythos has an end of the world story, an episode in which all the evil of the world comes against all the good, and man and god alike often suffer and even die. Christianity, Islam, and Judaism all have an end of the world story, and a story of restoration afterwards. Greek mythology and Roman mythology both also contained end of the world stories. The world's end does not set Ragnarok, the Norse version of the world's final days, apart from other belief systems but the dark language of this event in this Norse legend, the same tone taken in many of the Norse myths, along with the way in which the world does end, are among several factors that do tend to make Norse mythology appear much more pessimistic than its counterparts.

Norse myths are known for the dark tone of voice, and the constant pointing towards Ragnarok and the destruction of the world. H.A. Guerber, in Myths of the Northern Lands, comments on the unique aspects of Norse mythology by saying: "The most distinctive traits of the Northern mythology are a peculiar grim humor which is found in the religion of no other race, and a dark thread of tragedy which runs through the whole" (5). In this paper I will study the theology of the Norse, and attempt to help shed light on what exactly gives their religion the darker and more pessimistic reputation it holds. One strategy to bring a stronger sense of understanding to Norse mythology is to understand the culture it comes from and compare it to a more familiar belief system. In the Book of Genesis, there is one God who simply speaks the world into existence. There is a void, and God's mere words fill it, and build it. Man is made from the sand, and woman is made from the rib of man, but with no negative consequences to that man. The Norse explanation of how the world came to be, by contrast, is filled with violence, blood shed, and the beginning of a war that will last through all of time until the final confrontation at Ragnarok...

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Posted on Sunday, March 15 - 2009

The Vikings

Copyright The Independent

For centuries, they have been stereotyped as marauding barbarians arriving in their helmeted hordes to pillage their way across Britain. But now a group of academics believe they have uncovered new evidence that the Vikings were more cultured settlers who offered a "good historical model" of immigrant assimilation.The evidence is set to be unveiled at a three-day Cambridge University conference starting today, when more than 20 studies will reveal how the Vikings shared technology, swapped ideas and often lived side-by-side in relative harmony with their Anglo-Saxon and Celtic contemporaries. Some may have come, plundered and left, but those Vikings whodecided to settle rather than return to Scandinavia learnt the language, inter-married, converted to Christianity and even had "praise poetry" written about them by the Brits, according to the experts.The conference, entitled "Between the Islands", draws on new archeological evidence, historical studies and analysis of the language and literature of the period, and shows that between the 9th and 13th centuries, the Vikings became an integral part of the fabric of social and political life that changed Britain and Ireland far more profoundly than previously realised. The academics hope it will tip the balance still further in the "raiders or traders" question. Scholars will argue that they should be seen as an early example of immigrants who were successfully assimilated into British and Irish culture.Their so-called "invasion" led, to some extent, to the creation of trans-national identities, a process that has particular relevance to modern Britain.

Dr Fiona Edmonds, of Cambridge University's department of Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic, said: "The latest evidence does not point to a simple opposition between Vikings and natives.
"Within a relatively short space of time – and with lasting effect – the various cultures in Britain and Ireland started to intermingle. Investigating that process provides us with a historical model of how political groups can be absorbed into complex societies, contributing much to those societies in the process. There are important lessons that can be gained from this about cultural assimilation in the modern era." Dr Máire Ní Mhaonaigh, who is co-organising theconference......

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Posted on Wednesday, August 30 - 2006

The Midgard Serpent, who will battle Thor at the battle of Ragnarok, according to the Norse myth.


In Norse mythology, Ragnarok ( "fate of the gods") is the battle at the end of the world. It will be waged between the gods (the Aesir, led by Odin) and the evils (the fire giants, the Jotuns and various monsters, led by Loki). Not only will the gods, giants, and monsters perish in this apocalyptic conflagration, but almost everything in the universe will be torn asunder.In the Viking warrior societies, dying in battles was a fate to admire, and this was carried over into the worship of a pantheon in which the gods themselves were not everlasting, but would one day be overthrown, atRagnarok.Exactly what would happen, who would fight whom, and the fates of the participants in this battle were well known to the Norse peoples from their own sagas and skaldic poetry.

The Voluspa (Prophesy of the Völva (shaman)), the first lay of the Poetic (or Elder) Edda, dating from about 1000 AD, spans the history of the gods, from the beginning of time to Ragnarok, in 65 stanzas.
The Prose (or Younger) Edda, written two centuries later by Snorri Sturluson, describes in detail what would take place before, during, and even after the battle. What is unique about Ragnarok as an armageddon tale is that the gods already know through prophesy what is going to happen: when the event will occur, who will be slain by whom, and so forth. They even realize that they are powerless to prevent Ragnarok. But they will still bravely and defiantlyface their bleak destiny.

Portents Ragnarok will be preceded by the Fimbulwinter, the winter of winters. Three such winters will follow each other with no summer in between. As a result, conflicts and feuds will break out, and all morality will disappear. The wolf Skoll and his brother Hati will finally devour Sol and her brother Mani respectively, after a perpetual chase. The stars will vanish from the sky, plunging the earth into darkness. The earth will shudder, so violently that trees will be uprooted, and mountains will fall, and every bond and fetter will snap and sever, freeing Loki and his son Fenrir. This terrible wolf's slavering mouth will gape wide open, so wide that his lower jaw scrapes against the ground and his upper jaw presses against the sky. He will gape evenmore......

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