Lecturers and lecture titles
1. Stefan Brink (University of Aberdeen): Encounters with the Supernaturals: Liminal Places for Communication with Gods and Goddesses
Abstract: From Old Norse mythology and the place-name evidence, we get an impression of where the people thought the supernaturals dwelt. Preferred sites where obviously groves, mountains (often of a special character), lakes, rapids and wells. Very often these are natural features of a special kind in the landscape, and very often water is involved. But what about cult or sacral places denoting arable land or a building? How are these to be interpreted? Anthropological comparison gives us some ideas what might have gone on at these places, and about cult activities related to such liminal places. The question is, of course, that these observations from other “modern” cultures around the world are somewhat general. How relevant may they be for prehistoric Scandinavia? These questions about the Nordic liminal sites, and whether it is possible to add flesh to the meagre skeleton that Old Norse literature and place names provide us with, will be discussed in this paper.
*2. Coppélie Cocq (Umeå universitet): Myth and Liminality in Sámi legends: Sources of Fear, Sources of Knowledge
Abstract: In this lecture, I will consider different aspects of liminality that emerge in Sámi mythology and religious beliefs. The relation to the bear, encounters with underground beings and the disappearance of community members are instances where limits are transgressed. The indeterminacy materialized in a need for ritual experts will be approached, as well as strategies activated in order to re-establish normality. Thus, time and space appears to be central in bordercrossing situations. Liminality does not only question normality and create fear. It also generates opportunities. For instance, traditional Sámi knowledge and shamanic knowledge are told to be products of negotiation between different worlds. From this perspective, I will discuss in what way liminality represents a source of knowledge - and not solely a source of fear.
3. Margaret Clunies Ross (University of Sydney): Spaces, Borders, Limits: Beings in Movement in Old Norse Myth and the Meanings We Can Derive From Their Behaviour in the Mythological World
Abstract: This paper focuses on the behaviour of mythic beings in movement (and lack of movement) within the Old Norse mythological world and what meanings can be derived from that interaction between spaces, borders and beings. The nature of the mythological world itself can be extrapolated from the medieval evidence available to us (textual, archaeological), while evidence for the degree of movement commanded by mythic beings and the nature of their movement in that world is expressed both in mythic narrative s and in information about them available from texts such as the poetry of the Poetic Edda, some skaldic verse and Snorra Edda. It will be suggested here that variables associated with movement within and between spaces, and particularly the ability to cross borders as well as the various restrictions on movement experienced by mythic beings are significant indicators of more general significatory codes within the Old Norse mythological world.
4. Gísli Sigurðsson (University of Iceland): Gylfi’s Illusion about the Gods’ Dwellings in the Sky
Abstract: At the Aarhus mythology-conference, Myth and memory in Old Norse culture Nov. 21 in 2008 (“Myths as Encoded Knowledge about the World”), I demonstrated that we can actually prove that there is a link between the mythological interpretation of the world and celestial observations in 19th century Icelandic tradition. In addition, I discussed the general consequences of reading Snorri’s Edda as a mythological interpretation of the world, with the earth below and the sky above where the stars and other heavenly bodies move around, as well as up and down, in a regular pattern, day and night. This approach would radically change all our discussion about the systematic thought behind the individual myths as well as about their source value as reflections of pre-Christian ideas in the north (see also: “Goðsögur Snorra Eddu: Lýsing á raunheimi með aðferðum sjónhverfingarinnar.” Rannsóknir í félagsvísindum X. Eds. Gunnar Þór Jóhannesson and Helga Björnsdóttir. Reykjavík: Félagsvísindastofnun Háskóla Íslands, 2009, 851-861). In the paper at this conference I will try to take this idea a step further and analyse the structure of Gylfaginning in order to see if and how it should be read as a general introduction to what can be observed in the sky where, as Snorri literally tells us 82 times, we should be looking for the gods. Gylfi’s illusion therefore involves making us think that we see the gods and their dwellings and the world tree in the sky when, in fact, all we see with our mortal eyes is the stars, the planets, the Sun and the Moon, and the Milky Way, along with the occasional celestial phenomena such as the rainbow, sun-/ moon halos and eclipses, all of which have their mythological equivalents and “can be seen from Earth” as Gylfaginning (ch. 11) puts it when explaining the children Bil and Hiuki, well known as moon-dogs in English. In short: Does Gylfaginning function as a general beginners’ handbook to stargazing with bare eyes – which this approach suggests?
5. Jürg Glauser (Universität Basel and Universität Zürich, Switzerland): Beyond the Limits: Topographies of the Myth
Abstract: Together with ‘time’, ‘space’ belongs to the most essential categories of mythical narratives, as well as of cultural phenomena generally, and there is a long tradition of Old Norse scholarship dealing with different aspects of space in particular Scandinavian myths and, on a more abstract level, in mythological structures. In my paper, I will look at different examples of the representations of space in the body of Old Icelandic mythological texts and in other evidence of myth, such as Viking-period stone sculpture. I will take my point of departure in recent discussions about the topographies of culture, arguing from the stance of cultural studies.
6. Ingunn Ásdísardóttir (PhD student, University of Iceland): To Be or Not to Be a Jötunn: Probing the Identity of Loki.
Abstract: Looking at the figure of Loki, and trying to place him within the mythological world, it soon becomes apparent that he really does not seem to fit in anywhere. His family connections do not give any clear idea of his identity as very little is known about the few members of his family that actually are mentioned somewhere: his father, Fornjótr, is only mentioned in Þulur among other giants’ names; his mother is hardly better known, and the names of his two brothers are thought originally to be names of Loki himself. In spite of living with the Æsir and even being a fosterbrother of Óðinn, he certainly does not fit into any godly behavioural pattern. The literary sources certainly call him a jötun, and in some instances, he seems to be on good talking terms with at least some of the jötnar, but in many ways his behaviour does not harmonize with their ways either. The question is then: So who is Loki? If he seems not to belong to any of the groups of beings that populate the mythological world, is he of the same kind as his children and a few others, that is, a being of whom only one specimen exists? If such is the case, what could that possibly indicate?
7. Judith Jesch (University of Nottingham): Crossing the Ocean: The Norse Gods in the Viking Diaspora
Abstract: Iceland is traditionally viewed as conserving and conservative when it comes to Norse mythology, a repository of old stories, customs and beliefs from the pre-Christian past of the Scandinavian homelands. However, this picture is complicated if we view Iceland as as one node in the linguistic and cultural networks created by the Viking Age diaspora. Diaspora is characterised by a consciousness of connection both to the people and traditions of a homeland, and to migrants of the same origin in other countries. This connection is often lateral, decentred, continuing and not necessarily unidirectional. The paper will explore the movements, connections and fates of the Norse gods in the diasporic contexts of the North Atlantic from Norway, via the British Isles, to Iceland and beyond.
8. Henning Kure (København): Three Giant Maidens - Threat or Menace?
Abstract: The gods and goddesses on the edge could for instance be the jötnar, the so-called giants. At least, they are generally perceived as creatures of the periphery – and thereby also generally associated by readers with danger. Perhaps that is why most, if not all, commentators assume the three giant maidens appearing in Völuspá st. 8 to be a threat to the gods. Or maybe it is just because Snorri says so. According to his exposition of the stanza in Gylfaginning ch. 14, women from the giant worlds ruined a “golden age” of the gods. However, the intentions and actual actions of the giantesses remain unspecified in either version of the story.
9. Triin Laidoner (PhD student, University of Aberdeen): The Footprints of the Sámi in Old
Abstract: What began as a revolutionary proposal in the beginning of the 20th century, the idea that there may have been carry-overs into the multifaceted Old Norse culture from the Sámi people, whose contacts with the Norse were evidently dense and reach back to a very early period, has gradually become a very popular topic among many Old Norse scholars. However, so far, the focus seems to have been directed on the concept of seiðr to which equivalents can be found in Sámi magic-practices. The aim of this paper is to look at the evidence concerning the liminal role and existence of the figure of Loki in North Europe and certain cultural parallels from those northern and eastern areas with which he seems to be most associated, and which may suggest Loki’s possible “foreign” (arguably Sámi) roots, or at least, strong influences from the Sámi culture. In the light of those features that may suggest a link to the Sámi, it is certainly noteworthy how this figure in the later accounts seems to have developed into a devilish character, at the same time as attitudes toward the Sámi and their “primitive” magic worsened with the northerly progress of Christianity in Scandinavia. Under attention will be those features of Loki’s dualistic character that reflect the various aspects of (Sámi) shamanic worldview and the possibility that Loki’s figure may possibly have developed independently in the northern parts of Scandinavia, belonging to the border of Sámi and Norse cultures.
10. John Lindow (University of California, Berkeley): Hostages, Groups, and Transformations: The Peace Settlement of the Æsir and Vanir
Abstract: The settlement between æsir and vanir turns on exchanges of hostages: Njörðr and Freyr, Hœnir and Mímir, and Kvasir. These figures are indeed liminal: they stand at the temporal and spatial boundaries between the two groups and to some extent articulate both the distinctions between the groups and the integration. In this paper I focus on the transformation of two of these hostages, Mímir and Kvasir, into tokens of wisdom, as a talking head and an inspirational beverage. Each group is represented in these figures, and each individual must die. Each dies as a member of an out group, and each has his body processed in order to make the remains useful and powerful. The most telling analogy may well be Ymir.
11. John McKinnell (Durham): John McKinnell (Durham): Seeming or Becoming? Male to Female Transvestism in Old Norse Mythology
Abstract: In a society which, like that of medieval Scandinavia, had sharply distinguished gender roles, interest in the role and experience of the opposite gender, which one could never wholly share, was both natural and dangerous, carrying the promise of sacred knowledge but also the threat of social disgrace. This paper will consider attitudes towards males who dress as females (including ‘approved’ transvestism for an ulterior purpose, such as Þórr’s highly unconvincing impersonation of Freyja in Þrymskviða), but also towards males who may actually become temporarily female, such as Óðinn in Saxo’s story of Rinda and the accusation levelled at him by Loki in Lokasenna, or Loki himself (in a number of myths). I shall also consider whether there seems to have been a qualitative difference between becoming female but remaining human (as Loki does, for example, in Þrymskviða) and becoming a female animal (as he does in the myth of the Giant Builder). What might have inspired this male fascination with the idea of seeming or becoming female, and under what circumstances might it be ‘allowed’?
12. Stephen Mitchell (Harvard University): Good Fences Make Good... Witches? Liminality and Nordic Magic
Abstract: Central to many belief systems concerned with magic and witchcraft is the idea of border-crossing, or liminality. This fact is true of few cultures more so than the Nordic, where both lexicon and narrative legacy reflect the importance of this motif. Often, these texts project the idea of liminality through the notion of transvection, generally of riding, as in the case of terms like kveldriða ("evening rider, night hag") and myrkriða ("dark rider, night hag"). The witch-like figures of Hávamál, st. 155 are called túnriðor, literally, "hedge-riders" where the term is thought to be predicated on the same belief complex as the so-called "hedge-spirits" of OE hægtesse, OHG hagazussa. More vivid still is the slander about women noted in the 13th-century Swedish Äldre Västgötalagen, that it is actionable to say of a woman, "Iak sa at þu reet a quiggrindu löfharæþ. ok i trols ham þa alt var iamrift nat ok daghér" (lit. "I saw you riding on a fence-gate with your hair loose and in the shape of a 'troll' when all was even [between] night and day" [= at the equinox?]). Here both the location of the physical act of hedge- or fence-riding and the transitional temporal moment (either between times of the year, if the phrase refers to the equinox, or between times of the day, if, as has been suggested, it means twilight) represent specific references to liminality connected with witchcraft. I will argue that grasping this belief complex, and echoes of it, allows us to tease new understandings of Nordic traditions of charm magic out of our texts (e.g. the generally "unmagical" Sturlunga saga).
13. Else Mundal (University of Bergen): Hardship Connected to the Crossing of Borders Between Old Norse Worlds
Abstract: According to the Old Norse world-view, there existed many worlds (heimar) populated by humans, different kinds of mythological beings, and by the dead. It was possible to cross the borders between these worlds but, as described in the sources, in many cases the crossing was connected with hardship and danger of different types. It is especially the crossings between firstly the world of the gods (or the humans) and the world of the giants and secondly the world of the living (humans or gods) and the world of the dead that are focused in the sources. In the paper I will describe and discuss the different types of border crossing and the hardship that sometimes is connected with this crossing. Attention will be paid to the possibility of influence from religions with which Old Norse religion(s) coexisted or came in contact (Sami religion and Christianity to be exact). In the first case, the border crossing of a shaman - or shaman-like type - is of special interest. In the latter, the possibility that hardship connected to the crossing of the border between the living and the dead could form a basis for an early acceptance of punishment after death will be discussed.
14. Andreas Nordberg (University of Stockholm): The Doorway to the Other World. Architectural Religious Symbolism in Iron Age Graves.
Abstract: During the last twenty years, it has been recognized that monuments commonly regarded as graves are sometimes also found in cultic contexts other than those associated with death and burial. For instance, monuments similar to graves have been erected at cult sites and seem to have been used in sacrificial practices rather than for burials. It is probable that cult monuments and graves shared similar architectonic features because they refered to an analogous religious semantic field: they were “doorways” to the Other World. In this paper I intend to demonstrate how these conceptions could be manifested in the architecture of graves, by discussing implicit and explicit religious symbolism associated with the subsequent construction phases of some Iron Age graves from Eastern Mälar Valley in Sweden.
15. Neil Price (University of Aberdeen): An Eye for Odin: Border-Crossing in the War Gear of the Later Scandinavian Iron Age
Abstract: The notion of sacral kingship in the pre-Christian belief systems of the North has recently received considerable scholarly attention, including several noteworthy books devoted to the topic. Little of this work, however, has focussed upon material culture and its potential to reveal divine or mythological role-playing among the Scandinavian elites – a practice of identification and impersonation that is strongly hinted at in a number of Old Norse sources. This paper discusses aspects of the helmets and other war gear of the late Scandinavian Iron Age, including its overseas correlates in Anglo-Saxon England, that are argued to reveal border-crossing activities of this kind. These include specific actions, and links to particular supernatural beings. The nature of masking is considered in the context of helmets, with reference to the eyes of military leaders.
16. Jens Peter Schjødt (University of Aarhus): The Notion of Liminality in the Phenomenology of Religion and the Semantics of the Liminal within Old Norse Mythology
Abstract: The notion of liminality has played a role within the study of religion ever since the days of Arnold van Gennep, It is, however, the British anthropologist Victor W. Turner who, during the sixties and the seventies made the notion into a general category within the Phenomenology of Religion. What I will do in this paper is to discuss the usefulness of the term, especially within the context of Scandinavian religion. Whereas Turner used the term especially in connection with the ritual sphere, it may in my opinion be of great importance for understanding some of the myths in a Scandinavian context. In the paper I will, therefore, give a couple of examples of how the metaphor of the ‘journey’ can be understood in the light of the notion of liminality.
17. Olof Sundqvist (Högskolan i Gävle): The Hanging, the Nine Nights and the “Precious Knowledge” in Hávamál 138–145: The Cultic Context
Abstract: In the Eddic poem Hávamál (138–145) it is mentioned that the god Odin hung on a windy tree for nine long nights, “dedicated to Odin, myself to myself”. The myth which seems to be behind the text was probably essential in the ancient Scandinavian religion. The interpretation of the passage in Hávamál has, however, been controversial among historians of religions. In the present study I intend to illuminate the cultic contexts of this passage, by focusing on “the nine nights” and “the precious knowledge” Odin gained on the tree. It is argued that the myth reflected in the poem includes a prototypical initiation or transition ritual (rite de passage). It constitutes a mythical model and pattern which may have been imitated in a real cultic context. The nine nights in the myth represent the liminal phase of the transition ritual. During this phase, Odin undergoes a radical transformation. He returns to life after being symbolically dead. At the same time, his character and status are changed. He gains new knowledge about the runes, magic spells, and perhaps also about the handling of sacrifices. In one sense Odin now becomes a “mythic cult leader”. These skills were probably also necessary for the earthly cult leader to comprise, for instance the “thul” or perhaps the “erilaR”. Most likely it was the future cult leader who had to take part in the symbolic hanging of Odin in a real cultic context. For the cult leader, this ritual was probably necessary to perform in order to gain full legitimacy from the cultic community, and to be fully accepted as an adequate religious specialist.
*18. Torun Zachrisson (University of Stockholm): Gables as Liminal Space: Lunda in Sdermanland and Other Iron Age Examples in Middle Sweden