anonymous asked:

I hear the term "weights" often in heathen circles. I know little more than that they are land-spirits. I would like to learn more about them and how they were honored and their place in old nordic practices. I thought you might be willing to share some of what you know, or some resources you recommend I explore? If it's not a hassle.

Sæll (eða sæl) vinur,
(Hello friend,)

No question is ever a hassle, my friend. I am more than happy to share my knowledge regarding vættir (nature spirits). Not all vættir are land sprits, though, for those are often referred to as landvættir. Still, vættir of the land seem to be the most common and most often interacted with, so I will focus our discussion on them specifically. To be honest, they are a particularly favorite subject of mine! I wrote a lot, so I am structuring this answer as an essay, which I hope you do not mind. It should help to organize the content!

On Landvættir: An Exploration of Primary Source Examples and Suggestions for Further Reading.

It is not surprising that we know fairly little about them, because they are quite elusive in our surviving texts. This is mainly because they are not always referred to directly being ‘landvættir’, but rather are referred to indirectly. The landvættir, from what I know of them, do not even appear in our eddic sources, but perhaps indirectly and vaguely, if they do. I also do suppose some people align the landvættir with the álfar (elves), which is reasonable. If this is done, they do appear in eddic material, in a way. Yet, even so, they still remain quite vague even in those sources. In the end, references to the landvættir seem to mostly be hidden gems scattered throughout other materials, such as Landnámabók (Book of Settlements) and the Íslendingasögur (Sagas of the Icelanders).

What are ‘Vættir’?

It is good to begin with solid footing, so let’s begin with a bit of an introduction to what a vættr (weight, or nature sprint) is:

“There were various kinds of nature spirits that the Icelanders (and other Scandinavians) believed in, and sometimes gave sacrifices to. There are early references to elves (álfar) in mainland Scandinavia. Like their modern-day equivalents, the “hidden people” (and expression used in both Norway and Iceland), these would have been of human size. Even close to nature were the guardian spirits of the land, or landvættir which inhabited the landscape. The welfare of the inhabitants of the country depended on their welfare and support, as can be seen in Egil’s Saga, ch. 58, when Egil raises a scorn-pole (níð) facing the guardian spirits of Norway. According to Ulfljot’s Law, people approaching Iceland by sea had to remove the dragon-heads from the prows of their ships to avoid frightening the guardian spirits.”(1.)

From that, we can gather a few things: that there are many more types of vættir than just those who inhabit the land (although those will be the ones I mostly focus on in this discussion), that there is a long, evolving tradition surrounding them that lasts even into current times, and that they held considerable influence over the lands they inhabited, and even over the people who lived in those lands.

The Landvættir Today (Iceland):

Speaking of modern-day representations, the landvættir live on in Iceland’s coat of arms (a dragon, a bird, a bull, and a mountain giant):

Their story is told in Snorri Sturluson’s Heimskringla, or more precisely in The Saga of Olaf Tryggvason contained therein:

“King Haraldr (as in Bluetooth, the son of Gorm) told a man skilled in magic to go in changed shape to Iceland and  find out what he could tell the king. He went in the form of a whale. And when he came to the land, he went westwards round the north of the country. He saw that all the mountains and hills were full of land-spirits (landvættir), some large and some small. And when he came opposite Vápnafjǫrðr, then he went into the fjord and was going to go ashore. Then there went down along the valley a great dragon, and with it many snakes, toads and vipers, and spat poison on him. And he swam away and westwards along the coast, right up to Eyjafjǫrðr. He went in along that fjord. There a bird went against him, so large that its wings reached out to the mountains on both sides, and a multitude of other birds both large and small. He went away from there and westwards round the coast and so south to Breiðifjǫrðr and made to go into that fjord. There a huge bull went against him and waded out into the sea and began to bellow horribly. A multitude of land-spirits came with it. He went away from there and southwards round Reykjanes and tried to go up onto Víkarsskeið. There a mountain giant came against him with an iron staff in his hand, and his head rose higher than the mountains, and many other giants with him. From there he went eastwards along the whole length of the coast.”(2.)

Thus, these landvættir have a long history, stetting far back into at least the medieval period. From this example, we can tell that they were very powerful. Not only that, though, but that the land was “full of landvættir.” Yet, this example shows their menacing power to outsiders, but what about those living among them? For this, we shall turn to the Landnámabók.

Examples from Landnámabók:

Iceland seems to have provided us with the unique opportunity of gaining some minor insights into how native settlers treated the landvættir. Below are three examples of three different settlers interacting with these spirits:

Bjorn Gnupsson (Hafr-Bjorn):

“One night Bjorn dreamed that a cliff-giant came and offered him partnership, and that he accepted the offer. Afterwards a strange billy-goat came to join his herd of goats, and his livestock began to multiply so fast that soon he was a wealthy man. After that he was called Hafr-Bjorn (Goat-Bjorn). People with second sight could see that all the guardian spirits of the land accompanied him when he attended the Althing, and Thorstein and Thord (his brothers) when they went out fishing.”(3.)

In this example, Hafr-Bjorn befriends a landvættr that is referred to as a cliff-giant, or, in some other versions I believe, as a cliff or rock-dweller. He was actually offered this friendship from the landvættr itself in a dream, which demonstrates a possible method for communication with a landvættr. Furthermore, this example reveals the benefits to such a relationship, which was usually prosperity in land-related activities, such as the raising of livestock and fishing. Hafr-Bjorn and his brothers must have treated these spirits with great respect to have earned their friendship, and the benefits of such relations are clearly worthwhile. Also, this example shows us that seeing the landvættir required a special skill, or “second sight,” so not everyone could nor can see these spirits.

Olvir Eysteinsson:

“Olvir Eysteinsson took possession of land east of Grims River where no one had dared to settle for fear of land-spirits, since Hjorleif was killed there.” (4.)

Hjorleif was a blot-brother of Ingolf’s, the alleged first settler of Iceland.(5.) He was killed by a another man’s (Dufthak) slaves while looking for a bear in the woods.(6.) Yet, it was also mentioned earlier that he “would never sacrifice to the gods.”(7.) Regardless, his death laid a bad omen across that land, which is felt even when, many years later, a settler named Olvir comes along (as told above). This example, although short, demonstrates even the native fear of the power that the landvættir held, and that if their land was disrespected, it would likely not result in peaceful times for the settlers living there.

Thorstein Red-Nose (son of Hrolf Red-Beard):

“Thorstein Red-Nose was a great sacrificer. He used to make sacrifices to the waterfall and all the left-overs had to be thrown into it. He could see clearly into the future. Thorstein had all his sheep counted and they numbered 2400; after that they all jumped over the wall of the fold. Thorstein had so many sheep because each autumn he could see which of the sheep were doomed to die, and he had those slaughtered. That’s why he always had so many. The last autumn of his life, he said at the sheep-fold, ‘Now you can slaughter any of the sheep you life. Either I’m doomed to die or the sheep are doomed, or all of us are.’ The night he died, all the sheep got swept into the waterfall by a gale.”(8.)

This example is fascinating, because we kind of must piece things together to truly get the depth behind it. Thorstein was sacrificing the a landvættr that lived in a waterfall. It seems that this landvættr granted him this ability of foresight to enhance his skill in maintaining his sheep. I find this to be the case because, at the end of this example, the sheep are ‘returned’ to the waterfall once Thorstein passes away, therefore connecting the sheep to the waterfall through Thorstein. Once he was gone, the connection was broken and the landvættr took what was rightfully its.

All of these examples serve to demonstrate the various aspects of the landvættir that you asked about. They were honored much like the gods themselves were, it seems, although suitable information to ‘prove’ this is still to be desired. They either came to you in a dream, like one did with Hafr-Bjorn, or they would be won over through generous sacrifice, as was seen with Thorstein. They were respected and given appreciation to keep them in good spirits. After all, when angered or ignored, they could cause fear, as seen with the case of Olvir, or even destructive and threatening, as seen in the Saga of Olaf Tryggvason.

Examples from Icelandic Sagas and Tales:

If Landnámabók was not quite satisfying enough, there are still a few examples to be explored from Egil’s Saga and The Tale of Thorvald the Far-Travelled. For those reading this that are already well-read, it may seem odd for me to be leaving out Bard’s Saga. That example deals with vættir-related subject matter intensively, and I would rather recommend that as a full reading than except it as an example on this post, so I will return to Bard momentarily.

Egil’s Saga, chapter 58:

“He (Egil) took a hazel pole in his hand and went to the edge of a rock facing inland. Then he took a horse’s head and put it on the end of the pole.

Afterwards he made an invocation, saying, ‘Here I set up this scorn-pole (nið) and turn its scorn upon King Eirik and Queen Gunnhild’ - then turned the horse’s head to face land - ‘and I turn its scorn upon the nature spirits (vættir) that inhabit this land, sending them all astray so that none of them shall find its resting-place by chance or design until they have driven King Eirik and Gunnhild from this land.’

Then he drove the pole into a cleft in the rock and left it to stand there. He turned the head towards the land and carved the whole invocation in runes on the pole.”(9.)

In this example, we can see that people can actually ‘control’ the wrath of vættir, and they can even turn this wrath onto others, if they are skilled enough. Yet, in the case of Egil, he was wronged, and so he had right on his side (see footnote 9 for detail). Perhaps, then, vættir have a sense of justice even. Nonetheless, I suppose this is a sort of ritual, in which one would target their enemies with strong words, runes, and insulting imagery. Yet, it does hint that the vættir did play a social function as well. This was already indicated by the landvættir, who often protect the land and the people who dwell there, if they have a good relationship with them, of course. Thus, vættir can either protect people or attack them, depending on their relationship with the user and his or her skill.

Thorvald the Far-Travelled, chapter 3:

In this example, the ‘theme’ of a vættr is used very strategically by the author, so we must take caution in how we read this source. In the quote below, Thorvald talks with his father, Kodran, about converting to Christianity. Kodran responds (at first) by telling Thorvald that he has a ‘prophet’ who lives in some nearby stone, and that this prophet helps him in many ways. The author treats this prophet as a demon, although it seems that this figure is being built upon the tradition of the vættir.

“ ‘But I have another prophet of my own, who is very beneficial to me. He tells me many things which have not yet come to be. He takes care of my cattle, and reminds me what I should do and what I should avoid. That is why I have great faith in him and have worshipped him for a long time, but you are your prophet (a bishop named Fridrek) and your religion disparage him a great deal, and he dissuades me from making any agreements with you, and especially from taking your faith.’

‘Where does your prophet live?’ asked Thorvald.

‘He lives here, close by my farm,’ said Kodran, ‘in a large and imposing stone.’

Thorvald asked how long he had been living there.

Kodran said he had lived there for a long time.”(10.)

A few things should sound familiar by now. This is a landvættr, for he dwells within a stone. It also seems that we can conclude that landvættir are prophetic, because both here and with Thorstein Red-Nose in Landnámabók. The landvættir also tend to earthly things, such as livestock and farms, as we have seen with Hafr-Bjorn (goats), Thorstein Red-Nose (sheep), and now here with Kodran (cattle). The ‘prophet’ is also very old, which would not be surprising for a landvættr. Thus, it is not unreasonable to notice the connection here with landvættir, even though this tale never explicitly uses the term, which brings back a point made earlier that references to landvættir are like hidden gems scattered throughout our sources.

Recommendations for Further Reading:

It may be troublesome to randomly read sagas and tales with the hopes of stumbling upon one of these gems. Of course, I have already named a few that touch on the topic, but they are generally centered around other ideas and motives. If you want the short-cut method (other than just reading this post), I highly recommend you take a look into this source:

H.R. Ellis Davis, Myths and Symbols in Pagan Europe: Early Scandinavian and Celtic Religions(Syracuse University Press, 1989). 

This book would be the best way to learn about the material from a reliable place, and without scavenging the primary source material for information. Google has an eBook version that contains a preview, if you would like to check that out before purchasing. For the most direct information on landvættir, I recommend special attention be given to pages 102 through 133. In fact, I tried to make use of the examples discussed in her book as well, so that, if you choose to read it, things should be more familiar to you already. The whole book seems to be quite the gem, though, so you may be interested in that text for other purposes as well.

Regarding primary sources, you can investigate any of the sources I covered in this post by looking at the relevant footnotes. I will say, though, that I have mostly pulled what is relevant from the sources that you would have easy access to. For example, I would hate to recommend Egil’s Saga just for you to only have that portion of chapter 58 to read about regarding landvættir.

As I mentioned briefly before, I do highly recommend a complete reading of Bard’s Saga, although it may be difficult to acquire the text. I have done research on what English translations are available for all the Icelandic sagas and tales (you can see that information on this post), and, in this endeavor, I found that Bard’s Saga seems to only be reasonably accessible (in English) via this book: 

Ralph O’Connor, Icelandic Histories & Romances. (Tempus, 2004).

If you have trouble, don’t hesitate to let me know, because I would be more than happy to try to help you find a way to read that saga.


So, in the end, what have we learned?

  • Vættir are nature spirits, and people often sacrificed to them. Many of these vættir were called landvættir, but only those who lived in features of the land, such as waterfalls or large stones.
  • Landvættir (at least) can be in the form of animals, so they do not always take a human form.
  • Vættir could be friendly, but they could also be spiteful when angered, ignored, or disrespected.
  • Some landvættir protected entire regions or countries, whereas others protected local farmsteads. Sometimes they did not protect for the sake of humanity, but for themselves, and so if you are not on friendly terms with them, they will likely cause you great trouble.
  • Many people gave offerings to the landvættir to build a stronger relationship with them and the land. These offerings were not always material, but could also be offerings of respect and recognition, because some landvættir became friendly with people without the need for a formal sacrifice. Sometimes they would come to people in dreams, but only if they wished to.
  • A landvættr could offer a friend many gifts, but mostly prosperity in regards to the raising of livestock, in farming, and even in advice. Another frequent gift they would offer would be the gift of prophecy or foresight.
  • The vættir could be ‘manipulated’ in such a way to incite trouble for a foe, although this seems to require careful skill, for the user would not wish to disrespect the vættir him- or herself, lest they wish to incur their wrath. Yet, this could also be due to good relations.
  • Not everyone could see vættir, for this required a special ability referred to as “second-sight.”
  • Despite not holding a prominent place in Eddic material, other sources suggest that the vættir placed a very central and regional role within the confines of Norse heathenism, and even beyond. Many of the practices told above would ahem been a part of daily life, and can best be summed up as a deep respect, and sometimes fear, of the power of nature.
  • The tradition surrounding the vættir has lived on for quite a long time, existing likely even before Iceland was settled. The vættir still live on today in folklore and in national images such as Iceland’s coat of arms.

Seems like we have learned quite a bit! Of course, this is perhaps only just the surface of the complexity that surrounds the vættir, but it is still quite rich and rewarding. Besides, I have only discussed examples from Iceland. Nonetheless, I do hope that you and others benefit from this post, despite its possibly daunting length. Feel free to reach out to me in the future if the need arises. I am always happy to discuss these things!

Með vinsemd og virðingu,
(With friendliness and respect,)


1. Viðar Hreinsson, Reference Section: Glossary, in The Complete Sagas of Icelanders: Including 49 Tales, Vol. V, edited by Viðar Hreinsson, Robert Cook, Terry Gunnell, Keneva Kunz, and Bernard Scudder, (Reykjavík: Leifur Eiríksson Publishing, 1997), 413.

Fig.1. Coat of Arms of Iceland, Wikimedia Commons.

2. Snorri Struluson, The Saga of Olaf Tryggvason, in Heimskringla, Vol. I, translated by Alison Finlay and Anthony Faulkes. (Viking Society for Northern Research: University College London, 2016), 168. (Chapter 33)

3. Hermann Pálsson and Paul Edwards trans., The Book of Settlements: Landnámabók. (repr., 1972; Manitoba: University of Manitoba Press, 2012), 125. (Chapter 329, Sturlubók)

4. Ibid., 126. (Chapter 330, Sturlubók)

5. Ari Thorgilsson, The Book of the Icelanders: Íslendingabók, translated by Siân Grønlie. (Viking Society for Northern Research: University College London, 2006), 4.

“It is said with accuracy that a Norwegian called Ingólfr travelled from there [Norway] to Iceland for the first time when Haraldr the Fine-Haired was sixteen years old, and a second time a few years later; he settled in the south in Reykjarvík.”

6. Pálsson trans., The Book of Settlements, 20. (Chapter 8, Sturlubók)

7. Ibid., 19. (Chapter 7, Sturlubók)

8. Ibid., 134. (Chapter 329, Sturlubók)

9. Bernard Scudder trans., Egil’s Saga, in The Complete Sagas of Icelanders: Including 49 Tales, Vol. I, edited by Viðar Hreinsson, Robert Cook, Terry Gunnell, Keneva Kunz, and Bernard Scudder, (Reykjavík: Leifur Eiríksson Publishing, 1997), 114. (Chapter 58) I recommend referring to the Penguin edition (page 119), due to the expense of the version I have used in writing this post.

I actually stubbled upon another bit of information, a poem this time, contained earlier in this chapter (Verse 29, page 110. Penguin: page 114). This actually explains why Egil did not incur the wrath of the landvættir, because he had right on his side. Think of it as a treat for actually reading these footnotes:

“Land spirit, the law-breaker        – (‘land spirit’ appears here as ‘landalfr’).
has forced me to travel 
far and wide; his bride deceives
the man who slew his brothers.
Grim-tempered Gunnhild must pay
for driving me from this land.
In my youth, I was quick to conquer
hesitation and avenge treachery.”

10. John Porter trans., The Tale of Thorvald the Far-Travelled, in The Complete Sagas of Icelanders: Including 49 Tales, vol. V, edited by Viðar Hreinsson, Robert Cook, Terry Gunnell, Keneva Kunz, and Bernard Scudder, (Reykjavík: Leifur Eiríksson Publishing, 1997), 360. (Chapter 3)


ROLLO ; c. 860 CE - c. 932 CE
    Rolf, Hrolf, Hrolfr, Rou, Rollon, Robert

Son of the Norwegian Earl of Møre, Rollo was part of raids on Scotland, England, Flanders and France. Rollo left Norway around 900; some say exile for lawlessess, some say as simple independance from his king, and arrived in France in the next decade. He established himself along the Seine and laid seige to Paris during the reign of Charles III. The peace and treaty that followed allowed Rollo lands near the mouth of the Seine, what would become the Dukedom of Normandy.

He passed the title to his son before he died, and though he was Christened ‘Rolf’, Rollo is said to have died a pagan. Rollo is the great-great-great grandfather of William the Conquerer, and ancestor of most European royalty, current and abolished. Rollo had two wives in his lifetime, Poppa of Bayaux, allegedly married by the controversial More Danico. When he converted to Christianity, he married Gisela of France, though her existance, and how legend says she was treated by her new husband, are debated.

Landnámabók: Helgi the Lean.

Chapter 218 (Sturlubók):

“Helgi the Lean went to Iceland with his wife and children and his son-in-law Hamund Hell-Skin as well. Hamund was married to Ingunn, Helgi’s daughter. Helgi’s faith was very much mixed: he believed in Christ but invoked Thor when it came to voyages and difficult times. When Helgi sighted Iceland, he consulted Thor as to where he should put in, and the oracle guided him north of the island. Then his son Hrolf asked Helgi whether he was planning to sail to the Arctic Ocean if Thor told him to go there? It was late summer, he said, and the crew thought it was time to get ashore. Helgi made land north of Hris Isle, just sound of Svarfadardale, and spent the first winter in Hamundarstead. The winter was very severe.

“In the spring Helgi climbed Solarfells, and saw that everything seemed much less white up towards the head of the fjord, which they called Eyjafjord because of the islands further out. Then Helgi carried all his possessions on board, but Hamund stayed behind. Helgi landed at Galtarhamar, and there he put two pigs ashore – the boar was called Solvi. The pigs were found three years later in Solvadale, and by that time there were seventy of them.

“Helgi spent the summer exploring the neighborhood, and took possession of the whole Eyjafjord, between Sigluness and Reynisness. He built fires at every estuary to hallow his land-claim.

“He spent the next winter at Bilds River, but in the spring he moved house over to Kristness and lived there for the rest of his life. During the removal, Thorunn had a baby on Thorunnar Isle in Eyjafjord River, and that’s where she gave birth to Thorbjorg Island-Sun. Helgi believed in Chirst and called his home after him. Afterwards other settlers began to live within his land-claim, with Helgi’s approval.”(1.)


1. Hermann Pálsson and Paul Edwards trans., The Book of Settlements: Landnámabók. (repr., 1972; Manitoba: University of Manitoba Press, 2012), 97. (Chapter 218)

anonymous asked:

I've been wondering lately if there is much discussion in norse myth/lore along the theme of "gluttony" or discussion of cultural views regarding what we may now view as gluttony (particularly related to food)? You seem like the person to ask such a broad question - you have such thorough knowledge it seems.

Sæll (eða sæl), vinur minn,
(Hello, my friend,)

This is a very peculiar topic, but I quite like that. My first impression, after doing some research, reading, and thinking, is that gluttony as we understand it today (which is a fairly Christianized concept) does not quite stand in Norse mythology and lore. There was, however, a fairly similar social expectation for food to be shared with others. A traveller, for example, was to be given lodgings, and that often included a meal, as well; guests are meant to be given food and a host must not withhold, or else he or she is a poor host. Yet, there does not seem to have been a set amount on how much had to be shared. A host could have more food than the entire local community put together, but he or she (because women often controlled the food, which was no small task, mind you) did not have to divide it out and be left with the same amount as the rest. They simply had to share it when the social situation demanded it of them. There is a case in Njal’s Saga where a man refuses to share food during a famine, yet that man was not charged with gluttony by the author (although the thought may have crossed his mind). Instead, he was threatened with rán, an unsociable act of theft that typically resulted in a feud. In theory, the concepts of gluttony and this social expectation have the same function within a society, but the cultural ‘essence’ behind them is a bit different.

To answer this properly, though, we must consider at least two things: our sources and who wrote them. Much of Norse mythology is contained within two books, the Prose Edda and the Poetic Edda, but bits of mythology are also scattered throughout other sources, such as Ynglinga saga and Volsunga saga. When considering themes such as gluttony in Norse mythology, we must first consider the authors who composed those texts, because we must ask ourselves whether or not they would have been concerned about gluttony to begin with. So, before jumping into the myths themselves, we should consider the cultural views of those who put the myths into writing, and how this society understood such a concept. For simplification, we will only focus on two sources for Norse mythology: the Prose Edda and the Poetic Edda, since they are the most cohesive sources that we have regarding Norse mythology.

The answer is quite long (perhaps even the longest that I have produced), and I hope that does not bother you. I had originally placed the information under a ‘keep reading’ tab, but it was not working properly for some people, and so I have since removed that. It is a fascinating topic in general, but there is much to be learned about the historical process here as well because I have constructed this answer as a progression of thought rather than just a definitive argument. That said, though, the answer may not be as straightforward as desired.



Pinpointing the exact origin of an abstract concept is always a difficult feat to undertake, and so finding an actual ‘origin’ may be an unfavorable place to begin. Yet, our understanding of gluttony as being a negative practice of excessive consumption does not actually seem to be a natural part of Norse mythology itself. Rather, it seems more likely to have been ‘seeded’ into the myths through Christianity. This does not mean that gluttony is completely irrelevant in terms of Norse mythology, though, because much of our material has indeed passed through Christianity’s filter. Thus, to discuss the role of gluttony in Norse mythology, we must first remind ourselves where gluttony as we view it today (as a sin, or as a negative behavioral trait in general) began, but also how this concept would have been understood in their own time.

To get into the medieval mind a bit, I am going to bring up a few biblical verses about gluttony from the Douey-Rheims’ translation of the Latin Vulgate (with the Latin text first, followed by the English translation). Although it is not directly applicable to Norse mythology, it will allow us to better understand the concepts affecting the minds of our medieval authors.

Isaiah 22:12-14

“Et ecce gaudium et laetitia, occidere vitulos et jugulare arietes, comedere carnes, et bibere vinum: comedamus et bibamus, cras enim moriemur. Et revelata est in auribus meis vox Domini exercituum: Si dimittetur iniquitas haec vobis donec moriamini, dicit Dominus Deus exercituum.”

“And behold joy and gladness, killing calves, and slaying rams, eating flesh, and drinking wine: Let us eat and drink; for tomorrow we shall die. And the voice of the Lord of hosts was revealed in my ears: Surely this iniquity shall not be forgiven you till you die, saith the Lord God of hosts.”

Zachariah 7: 4-6

“Et factum est verbum Domini exercituum ad me, dicens: Loquere ad omnem populum terrae, et ad sacerdotes, dicens: Cum jejunaretis, et plangeretis in quinto et septimo per hos septuaginta annos, numquid jejunium jejunastis mihi? Et cum comedistis et bibistis, numquid non vobis comedistis et vobismetipsis bibistis?”

“And the word of the Lord of hosts came to me, saying: Speak to all the people of the land, and to the priests, saying: When you fasted, and mourned in the fifth and the seventh month for these seventy years: did you keep a fast unto me? And when you did eat and drink, did you not eat for yourselves, and drink for yourselves?”

Given just these verses about gluttony, and assuming that this was not a similar concept to be found in pre-Christian nordic lore or society, we can deduce that gluttony, if it were to appear in the Nordic myths of the Eddas and sagas, would be excessive consumption with an emphasis on selfishness. If our medieval authors were ecclesiastically trained, or at least familiar with the writing and copying of Latin texts and thus intimately familiar with biblical verse and Christian culture, then this would have been, generally speaking, what gluttony may have ‘looked’ like in their minds.

Now, there are several complications involved with this, but the most important of these is that our authors are often anonymous, meaning that we cannot be sure they would have such intimate familiarity with a biblical definition of gluttony. There are only two sources out of the four mentioned above that have a comfortably known author, and that is Snorri Sturluson and his Prose Edda and Ynglinga saga (contained within his larger work, Heimskringla). Yet, given the tone and treatments of certain subjects, it is possibly to assume, within reason, whether or not an anonymous author had a ‘Christian-oriented’ mind based on their use of language and narration style, or tone. The anonymous author of Hrolf Kraki’s Saga, for example, clearly demonstrates the Christian mind through his treatment of how that saga, and Hrolf’s final battle, came to a close.

Discussing Christian themes in these sources is tricky business, because they are not solely Christian nor are they solely pre-Cristian; they are blends of old and new, and thus separating them becomes rather difficult. Assuming gluttony to be a Christian-only concept, for example, is one such difficulty. Our lack of sources to help confirm a pre-Christian Nordic tradition regarding excessive food consumption or hoarding is another. And yet, assuming that pre-Christian Nordic lore had such a concept at all, and that such a concept held a similar negative context, would also be dangerous, because many of our source have passed through that Christianized filter. Even when looking at sources that perhaps did not pass through that filter, such as a runestone, there is still the filter of our own, contemporary minds to worry about. In fact, equating the Cristian-based understanding of gluttony that western society holds today (which has a long-rooted history) to a possible, similar concept in pre-Christian Nordic lore also brings us insecurities.

Yet, these debates will not be able to get us anywhere at the moment, for they obviously involve a long, winding path to a place we do not intend to walk to. My lack of knowledge in terms of gluttony in the pre-medieval Nordic world, or rather in any place outside of the Christian-medieval mind, could also be holding us back from a more concrete answer. Instead, it may be best to keep these complication in mind and move forward into the texts themselves.


A good place to begin such a broad journey is with the most secure source. When I say ‘secure’, though, I mean it in a fairly specific way. In terms of this answer, secure means that we know the author and date of the work in question. Since we know that Snorri Sturluson played a major role in writing down much of Norse mythology and lore, he is a suitable place to begin a discussion about themes of gluttony. Not only does he provide us with a time period to work off of, but also a voice.

Snorri Sturluson, born at Hvamm (in western Iceland) in 1179, was a historian, poet, and politician. Although he was a very secular man, caught up in matters far removed from traditional ecclesiastical concerns, Snorri was a learned and Christian author. Yet, he was not a cleric, unlike many other Icelandic writers during this time. (1.) Still, considering his Prologue, one could hardly argue that Snorri was completely detached from Christian learning. He wrote in the thirteenth century, which was a time of great political, economic, and social change for Iceland. The Church, for example, had gained more power and authority in Iceland (it was a native Church, but eventually becomes very much Norwegian, which, in turn, was more continental). While this happened, the Church “attacked the traditional power of secular chieftains,” which Snorri himself was. (2.)

While all of this turmoil unfolded, Snorri seemed concerned about his traditional succumbing to new order. As early as the twelfth century, at least, Latin stories, such a saints’ lives and chivalric romances, were being translated in Iceland. (3.) It is likely that Snorri saw this as superseding the tradition of the skalds, which could have been one motivation for writing his Prose Edda; he wanted to encourage his contemporaries to compose traditional poetry with traditional (and new) material and thus keep the art form alive and well. In such a sense, his Prose Edda truly does become a blend of cultures, which explains his purpose for aligning Norse mythology and lore to the newly encompassing Christian realm. In form, at least, the Prose Edda owes much to the influx of Latin works, particularly of Latin learned treaties. (4.)

In the end, although Snorri was passionate about his traditions, he was still a Christian, which means that Christian elements could have made their way into the retelling. Even though he was no ecclesiastically trained, he had to have been taught by someone who was (and if not he, the one before him). Even so, he lived in a Christian world, not a pagan one. His purpose was not to revive heathenry, but to revive the traditions within a Christian framework. He did not do this in a religious sense, though; his work is fairly detached and impartial. Even in the Skáldskaparmál, for example, he warns his readers against actually believing in the material. (5.) Thus, it is quite likely, then, that Christian themes like gluttony could have made their way into certain stories, whether consciously or subconsciously. Having this temporal context in mind, as well as Snorri’s personal ‘voice’, we might be able to unravel the question of gluttony a bit more easily.


The Prose Edda, despite its many flaws, is “the only comprehensive account of Norse mythology from the Middle Ages.” (6.) Yet, even if Snorri’s work was not particularly influential in his own time, it is definitely foundational to our understanding of Norse mythology today. In considering the theme of gluttony, though, there are several portions of lore that concern food and consumption in particular, especially in Valhalla and at feasts. The problem we will begin to run into is that food is often being referred to in a magical and ideal sense; when food is mentioned, it is among gods, not men. In the realm of the heavens there is no shortage of food and thus no shame in abundance, for all have an endless supply. This is suggested by the nature of food in Valhalla:

“…there will never be such a large number in Val-hall that the meat of the boar Sæhrimnir will not be sufficient for them. It is cooked each day and whole again by evening.” (7.)

In the Norse world, there seemed to have been a slightly different importance placed on food than there is in Christendom. For example, as the Hávamál will later attest to, there is a social expectation for the wealthy to hold great feasts for their guests, although these guests are often of high class themselves. Although this next portion of the lore does not say that a gluttonous man is to be shamed, it does suggest that a non-providing host would be shamed in a similar fashion:

“This is a strange question you are asking, whether All-father would invite kings and earls and other men of rank to his house and would give them water to drink, and I swear by my faith that there comes many a one to Val-hall who would think he had paid a high price for his drink or water if there were no better cheer to be got there, when he had previously endured wounds and agony leading to his death. There is a goat called Heidrun standing on top of Val-hall feeding on the foliage from the branches of that tree whose name is well known, it is called Lerad, and from the goat’s udder flows mead with which it fills a vat each day. This is so big that all the Einherjar can drink their fill from it.” (8.)

Although ending once more on a magical and idealistic source, such a passage begins with a strong tradition in providing food for guests of rank. Not only that, though, but it is expected that the host provide more than mere water. This, of course, is skewed to upper strata thinking, but still indicates an significance being imposed upon the nature of food. In terms of excess, though, there does not seem to be any negativity surrounding it, although there is an expectation that it should be shared with your guests. This is a bit different from gluttony, though, and so I would not be quick to consider them to be the same concept. The punishment for not sharing in excess is not considered to be sinful, but rather it is considered unsociable; a host does necessarily not need to provide for the needy, but for his guests.

This guest-host custom is actually a bit more complicated than that, though. It is not solely fixated on food, nor is it only a practice among the wealthy. In sticking to mythological material only, there is an instance in which Thor and Loki are guests in a peasant’s home:

“In the evening they arrived at a peasant’s house and were given a night’s lodging there. During the evening Thor took his goats and slaughtered them both. After this they were skinned and put in a pot. When it was cooked Thor sat down to his evening meal, he and his companion. Thor invited the peasant and his wife and their children to share the meal with him.” (9.)

This bit of lore actually brings even more complexity into the question concerning gluttony. For one thing, Thor is able to bring an unlimited food source to their table, because his goats can be sacrificed and brought back to life if treated properly. Yet, Snorri has also been very removed from these stories and thus does not offer much elaboration on their meanings. Thor shares the meal with the peasants, which could suggest that it was expected that one should share their food. If gluttony is selfishly hoarding and consuming food, then this social expectation to share food with others could suggest the possibility of a more social-based gluttony, rather than the moral and religious based understanding of gluttony that we have procured from Christianity.

Things begin to change once we consider the stories told in the Skáldskaparmál, though, which is not terribly surprising considering that there is speculation that Snorri wrote this portion of his Prose Edda before the Gylfaginning, meaning that it could easily contain a slightly different intent. It also has a different purpose than the Gylfaginning, because it aims to instruct a contemporary audience on applying mythology to contemporary skaldic practice, whereas the Gylfaginning was much more like a contextual background for the Skáldskaparmál. Literary debates aside, there is a more ‘active’ take on food customs from the very beginning of the Skáldskaparmál, when Loki is enraged that a giant eagle was being rather gluttonous:

“…it let itself from from the tree and sat on the oven and to begin with immediately put away the ox’s two hams and both shoulders. Then Loki got angry and snatched up a great pole and swung it with all his strength and drove it at the eagle’s body.” (10.)

I used the word ‘gluttonous’ a bit carelessly, but it is clear that Loki is upset (and rightfully so) because the eagle was selfish about his portion of the meal, which was meant to be shared. Of course, this tale may have a different intention overall, but this is still an evident moment where the selfish indulgence of food causes strife. Yet, it is still within the frameworks of an unsociable act, rather than a sinful act that would result in some spiritual damnation. We could debate this, though. If a person is a bad host, are they not punished by some divine force? In Hrolf Kraki’s Saga, Odin, disguised as a traveler named Hrani, puts King Hrolf’s behavior as a guest to the test. King Hrolf fails to accept Hrani’s gifts with appreciation, resulting in Odin denying him victory in a battle yet to come. Thus, a divine force could punish a person for not adhering to a social custom. This, however, did not involve food, which is a key difference between the Norse guest-host custom and gluttony; it does not have to be about food.

Taking a step back, though, there was never a heavy distinction placed between religion and society in the pre-Christian Nordic world; they were very much connected and inseparable. Even from a scientific viewpoint, religion and morality have a social function; they are ‘created’ to ensure that a group can work together more easily. The difference we have begun to observe, then, comes down to where the theme of gluttony is applied; is gluttony a spiritual failure or is gluttony an unsociable act? Although the Norse custom of guest-host behavior could involve food, and when it does it seems similar to the Christian notion of gluttony that we hold today, one could argue that the Norse had different connotations associated with it. Still, in the end, a sinful gluttony and an unsociable gluttony have the same role in a society, which is to ensure that food is shared when others are in need. I strongly advice against equating the two, though. The Nordic notion of guest-host behavior was not exactly the same as the Christian theme of gluttony, especially because that custom was not founded in food alone.

Having discussed these intricacies, we should be able to read our next example a bit more cautiously. In the Skáldskaparmál, Odin boasts about his horse, Sleipnir, to a giant named Hrungnir. In a “giant fury”, he chased Odin all the way into Valhalla, even getting past the gates! Since he had arrived, the Æsir treat him as a proper guest, for that is the guest-host custom that must be kept, even between gods and giant. Nonetheless, here is how Hrungnir behaves:

“…when he got to the hall doors, Æsir invited him in for a drink. He went into the hall and demanded that he should be given a drink. Then the goblets that Thor normally drank out of were brought out, and Hrungnir drained each one. And when he became drunk there was not lack of big words: he said he was going to remove Val-hall and take it to Giantland, but bury Asgard and kill all the gods, except that he was going to take Freyja and Sif home with him, and Freyja was the only one then who dared to bring him drink, and he declared he was going to drink all the Æsir’s ale.” (11.)

After this, the Æsir have Thor come into the hall with his hammer. They are unable to fight right away, though, because they must work around the social norms and customs that regulate guest treatment and host responsibilities. Eventually they do fight, and the Æsir are ‘avenged’. When we consider Hrungnir’s actions, he did two things that led to his ‘downfall’: he consumed more than was respectful and he cast various threats to those acting as his hosts. As a result, food is not the only issue here, although it clearly is a part of the problem. He was gluttonous in nature, but it was this in combination with poor guest habits that truly caused the violation.

Overall, these various examples from the lore preserved within the Prose Edda paint a complicated picture of ‘gluttony’ in Norse mythology. If gluttony is “excessive consumption with an emphasis on selfishness,” then there are indeed elements that do resemble gluttony. The giant eagle was selfish in his portion of food, which resulted in Loki being angered and attacking him. The giant eagle’s behavior was clearly a selfishness derived from excessive consumption, but more importantly of the best cuts of meat. Hrungnir was completely selfish in his consumption of the Æsir’s ale, which also encouraged anger among his hosts. Yet, this was also packaged with various, unsociable insults. Thus, there was a concept of gluttony in the Norse traditions of the Prose Edda, but this concept was not the gluttony that we know today. It may appear in a similar form, but it is intermingled with various other unique social norms and practices; food was never the only factor.


Now that we have looked deeply into this theme as it appears in the Prose Edda, we will turn to the Poetic Edda to better define what we have observed. Although the Poetic Edda consists of a great variety of poetry, this discussion will mostly be centered around the Hávamál. Not only will that poem serve to help us better understand this guest-host norm, but it also has a bit more to say about excessive consumption in regards to both food and drink. Of course, this perspective will complicate things, because it would be wise to remind ourselves of the caution that should be taken. The poems in the Poetic Edda are considered older material, but they were still written and compiled much later, in the 1270s, by far-removed hands; they are not free from possible alterations.

Most scholars agree that the mythological material contained in these poems is largely unaltered, but the social backing may have not gotten off as easily. Mythology, and the beliefs involved therein, were never standard nor stagnant; practice and belief varied on the basis of both region and time. As far as we know, “the localized nature of cults and rituals produced neither dogma nor sacred texts.” (12.) Thus, the contents of the Hávamál, for example, which has much to say about the doings of guests and hosts, may have been speaking more to a thirteenth-century audience using older, mythological motifs. We do not know the author who compiled these poems, nor do we actually know when and where these poems actually originated for certain. Such a claim (concerning a thirteenth-century influence) would require a lengthy discussion, though. The point I wish to make is that this material could be a blend of old and new, and that it would be unwise to assume otherwise. Although many of these norms have roots in a more distant past, they have not gone through time unchanged.

With that having been said, we shall turn our attention to this guest-host norm. The very beginning of Hávamál concerns the expectations of a proper host. When considering food, the host is expected to share; it would be viewed negatively if the host were to selfishly withhold food from a guest in need. Yet, even though this is fairly similar to gluttony, it still alludes us; it cannot fit nicely into our box. Nonetheless, here are the stanzas:

“ ‘Blessed by the givers!’ A guest has come in,
where is he going to sit?
He’s in great hast, the one who by the log-stack
is going to try his luck.

“Fire is needed for someone who’s come in
and who’s chilled to the knee;
food and clothing are necessary for the man
who’s journeyed over the mountains.

“Water is needful for someone who comes to meal,
a towel and a warm welcome,
a friendly disposition, if he could get it,
speech and silence in return.” (13.)

A guest ought to be brought in, warmed up with fire, given towels and clothes, provided with water and a meal, and given a friendly welcome and stay. When considering the theme of gluttony in the Prose Edda, these were the many of the other expectations that were intermixed with the importance of sharing in food. The Æsir had to be proper hosts for Hrungnir, after all, despite his poor behavior. Considering this list, though, food actually plays a far less significant role in this custom; gluttony, on the other hand, is solely fixated on food. The theme of food is present within this guest-host norm, but it is not central.

So what made Hrungnir a poor guest in terms of consumption? We know that he was insulting and unkind to his gracious hosts, but there was still the concern of his excessive consumption. His consumption habits also had far more to do with alcohol than with food. The Hávamál has much to say about consuming too much alcohol:

“No better burden a man bears on the road
than a store of common sense;
no worse journey-provision could he carry over the plain
than over-much drinking of ale.”

“It isn’t as good as it’s said to be,
ale, for the sons of men;
for the more a man drinks, the less he knows
about his own mind.”

“The forgetfulness-heron it’s called
who hovers over ale-drinking;
he steal’s a man’s mind;
with the bird’s feathers I was fettered
in the court of Gunnlod.”

“Drunk I was, I was more than drunk
at wise Fialar’s;
that’s the best about ale-drinking that afterwards
every man gets his mind back again.” (14.)

It is important to mention that these stanzas do not morally condemn those who drink too excessively. Rather, these lines carry the tone of guidance for a wise man to avoid being a foolish one; the emphasis is always on the mind. It is about what is ‘logical’ behavior and what will bring a man greater struggle and hardship. This is quite different from the Christianized theme of gluttony that western society holds today, which is generally rooted in morality and religious failure. Yet, this does not mean that a Christian author (or reader) would not have drawn a parallel between these stanzas and the theme of gluttony.

There is something to be said about food in particular as well, which is rather peculiar since drinking is often the focus, not food; there is much less concern about food, for there are many more stanzas about excessive drinking than there are about the excessive consumption of food. The Hávamál, however, does have something to say about food, although nothing very concrete. Here are the examples:

“The greedy man, unless he guards against this tendency,
will eat himself into lifelong trouble;
often when he comes among the wise,
the foolish man’s stomach is laughed at.”

“Cattle know when they ought to go home,
and then they leave the pasture;
but the foolish man never figures
the measure of his own stomach.” (15.)

These are, perhaps, the most convincing bits of ‘lore’ regarding actual gluttony in Norse mythology (at least out of those examined in this response). Here, Odin (although not actually Odin, but a poet using his ‘image’ to make a point) explicitly says that a man who consumes food to an excessive degree is “greedy.” Furthermore, there is a much more Christian-like tone to the words following that, saying that the man is greedy “unless he guards against this tendency.” That is, the tendency to eat too much. To say that this tendency is gluttony, though, is difficult. Is the poet condemning gluttony specifically here, or is the criticism still fixated on this man’s mind? Although the term ‘greedy’ alludes much more strongly to gluttony, the poem reverts back to ‘unwise’ and ‘foolish’. It is as if the poem briefly scraps the surface of gluttony, but then recedes back into the motif of Odin and his wisdom — from morality to sensibility. More context would be needed to make a definite conclusion (or another long discussion focusing on this specifically).


Having looked at the Hávamál, then, we are forced to take a step back and bring all of this information together, especially since a lot of material and intricacies have been discussed. Overall, the traces of ‘gluttony’ in Norse mythology have a much stronger basis in social practices than Christian gluttony, which seems to be far more individualistic and self-reflective. In the examples above, themes of gluttony, or gluttony-like scenarios, are interwoven with social norms that relate to food consumption within society. The giant eagle’s ‘gluttony’ was more about an unfair and unbalanced deal; he was to be given a portion, but not to selfishly take whatever he pleased. Hrungnir was ‘gluttonous’ (although mostly in terms of drink), but it was truly his poor behavior after his excessive consumption that led to strife. In all of these tales from the lore, food was never quite the only problem.

In the end, it seems that Norse mythology does not contain the same notion of gluttony that we do today. Some of our medieval authors may have noticed some opportunities to insert the concept into the myths, but they have done surprisingly well at avoiding this. Snorri Sturluson, for example, did his best to remain neutral about the material he was presenting (with the exception, perhaps, being the Prologue). He also had a very specific purpose behind his work. Although we cannot say the same about the Poetic Edda, having an anonymous author and an unclear date of origin (for the poems themselves), that work still shows a similar theme of gluttony that is entangled within social practices and behavior.

To conclude, Norse mythology has a similar theme, but it is skillfully blended with related social norms; we cannot extract a wholly gluttonous scenario or tale. There are a few reasons for this, but it is most important to note that, when approaching material with a ‘non-native’ concept, we must take care not to impose this concept onto the material. The same applies for forcefully removing ‘foreign’ concepts from something that time has permitted to enter it. It is surprising to see that Christian authors like Snorri Sturluson had not imposed this view onto the material when committing it to pen, but less so when considering his motivation behind doing so. In perhaps an unsatisfying response, gluttony is not present within Norse mythology, at least not to the form that it exists within our minds today. Elements of gluttony, though, are present, but they are combined with rather specific social norms. To truly understand the mythology that has been presented to us, and the various concepts that dwell within it, we must carefully consider who wrote them and when they were written. Then, we must be carefully not to alter the lore to serve our own bias or tendencies (at least when speaking in terms of historical practice).

Thank you kindly for asking. I do apologize for the long-winded response, but there are many intricacies and complexities to address. Still, I hope you find something beneficial from reading this response, although it may not be exactly the answer you were looking for.

Með vinsemd og virðingu,
(With friendliness and respect,)

1. Snorri Sturluson, Edda, translated by Anthony Faulkes. (repr., 1987; London: J.M. Dent, 1995), xii. [Free online version
2. Ibid.
3. Ibid., xiii.
4. Ibid.
5. Ibid., xvii. “…take this book as scholarly inquiry and entertainment. But these stories are not to be consigned to oblivion or demonstrated to be false, so as to disprove poetry of ancient kennings which major poets have been happy to use. Yet Christian people must not believe in heathen gods, nor in the truth of this account in any other way than that in which it is presented at the beginning of this book, where it is told what happened when mankind went astray from the true faith…” (64-65).
6. Ibid., xviii.
7. Ibid., 32.
8. Ibid., 33.
9. Ibid., 37-38.
10. Ibid., 59-60.
11. Ibid., 77.
12. Carolyne Larrington trans., The Poetic Edda. (repr., 1996; Oxfrod: Oxford University Press, 2014), xii.
13. Ibid., 13. (Stanzas 2-4).
14. Ibid., 14-15. (Stanzas 11-14).
15. Ibid., 15. (Stanzas 20 and 21).


frei-rancken  asked:

Hello again! I'm not sure if it's easy to answer what i'm about to ask but... Could yo either point m to bibliography or name a few pagan practices regarding small offerings or gestures "norse" peoples had. Talking about offering to elfs or stuff like that, or maybe things to do with the practising "witches" of the time. (i'm writing a thing and i'm in need of details from various cultures so i'm stuck between looking specifics between generalities, when authors focus on the later, usually. thxs

Komdu sæll og blessaður, vinir minn,
(Come happy and blessed, my friend,)

I must apologize for how long it has taken me to get back to you, and I do hope that you will be able to forgive me for the delayed response.

Magic and rituals are most definitely not my ‘specialty’ (I am no expert, and I do not know the intricacies of this subject like many others do), but I will do my best to help. I am much more familiar with medieval Icelandic society, law, and (more recently) gender studies (particularly the changing concepts of masculinity). That said, I am bound to miss vital resources for learning about these subjects in particular. If anyone else reading this knows of other helpful resources, please feel free to let them be known!

In regards to small offerings or gestures, I am going to focus on two types of spirits in particular: dísir and (land)vættir. (For a bit more detail about what those are exactly, check out this post). There are a few others that could be considered, but I think these would be what you would find the most interest in. Also, I know that you specifically requested álfar, but there is an unfortunate lack of information about them. In my opinion though (which is not much, since I have yet to carefully research this), I believe that the dísir and vættir are álfar, but simply taking on worldly roles rather than mythological ones. There is more complexity to it than that, of course, so take that for what it is worth. Regardless, they are all quite similar in nature. There is, however, much more information (in the sources that I am familiar with) about the other types.

I have actually already shared a few posts containing reading recommendations for dísir and vættir (as well as seiðr and völva). I will share those links with you in just a moment, but I will also be providing the information below (in a format more organized and convenient for you). Here, I am also expanding upon the previous list. Nonetheless, here are the past posts concerning this topic (or topics fairly similar):

  1. Víkingabók Database: Jól, Spirits, Magic, and Rituals. (Needs updating, and it will be sometime following this response).
  2. On Landvættir: An Exploration of Primary Source Examples and Suggestions for Further Reading.
  3. Details from Eiríks saga rauða about magic and magic rituals.
  4. A brief discussion about the term ‘seiðr’ in translation.

Otherwise, here is an updated and more convenient list for you to explore. It is not a comprehensive list by any means, but it should be more than enough to get you started. (For a list of the Sagas and Tales of Icelanders and where to find them, see this post).


Íslendingasögur (Sagas of Icelanders):

  • Bard’s Saga:
    • all of it 
  • Egil’s Saga:
    • chapter 44 (dísablót (sacrifice ‘ritual’ for the dísir (female ancestral spirits), usually around veturnætur (‘winter nights’, a ‘ritual’ period associated with dísir, Freyr, and other spirits)))
    • chapter 58 (landvættir (land-spirits))
  • Erik the Red’s Saga:
    • chapter 4 (völva (seeress), seiðr (magic), varðlokkur (ward songs))
  • Gisli Surrson’s Saga:
    • chapters 14, 15, and 17 (ghosts and veturnætur)
  • Killer-Glum’s Saga:
    • chapter 6 (dísir, veturnætur)
  • Njal’s Saga:
    • chapter 96 (dísir)
    • chapters 101-102 (galdr (magic like seiðr, but different)
  • The Saga of the People of Eyri:
    • chapters 4, 50-55 (rituals and ghosts)

  • The Saga of the People of Laxardal:
    • chapters 35-37 (seiðr)

Íslendingaþættur (Tales of Icelanders):

  • The Tale of Thidrandi and Thorhall:
    • all (dísir)
  • The Tale of Thorvald the Far-Travelled:
    • chapter 3 (landvættir)

Landnámabók (Icelandic Book of Settlements):

  • Bjorn Gnupsson (Hafr-Bjorn):
    • chapter 329 of Sturlubók (Landvættir)
  • Olvir Eysteinsson:
    • chapter 330 of Sturlubók (Landvættir)
  • Thorstein Red-Nose (son of Hrolf Red-Beard):
    • chapter 329 of Sturlubók (Landvættir)

Heimskringla (I, II, III) (A History of the Kings of Norway):

  • The Saga of Harald Fair-hair:
    • chapter 36 (seiðr)
  • The Saga of Olaf Tryggvason:
    • chapter 33 (Landvættir)
    • chapter 62-63 (seiðr)
  • Ynglinga saga:
    • chapters 4, 7, 13, 14, and 22 (seiðr)
    • chapter 29 (dísablót)

A Few Secondary Sources:

I truly hope that this list proves to be helpful for you. As I have said, it is most definitely not a complete list. In fact, many of the sources above may not be worth you buying if for this purpose alone (especially since some of the sagas only refer to your concerns for brief moments). I highly recommend looking at the free versions that are available for each resource if that is the case. If you are to put any money into this research, I recommend the secondary sources that I have listed.

If there is anything else you may need, feel free to ask. I know that it took my a bit of time to respond, but I will be more than happy to continue helping you out. I am nearing summer, so I will have a relatively more open schedule for the next couple months.

Með vinsemd og virðingu,
(With friendliness and respect,)

du-ich-jeder  asked:

Greetings friend,it is told That odin wanders among us. Do you have some source(s) That descripes those interactions? I know all the ones from the poetic and snorri edda, yet i am not satisfied. I love your blog and respect your knowledge a lot:)

Velkominn (eða velkomin), vinur,
(Welcome, friend,)

It has indeed been told that Óðinn wanders far in his quest for knowledge, and that he wanders to test the hospitality of us all. I understand how you would feel unsatisfied by the Eddic material, because I do not think that it has much to say about his wanderings. I do know of a few sagas, though some of these are contained (in some form, whether a summary or a poetic edition) in the Eddas, so perhaps they won’t be completely new for you, in which case I do apologize for not being able to follow up on that request.

Óðinn’s wandering stories tend to involve him interacting with heroes under a different name. After all, he wanders to test their hospitality, but also to give them advice and test their ‘loyalty’ in certain cases. If they fail to treat him well, he denies the hero and his companions their victory. I was planning to summarize the sections from these stories for you by retelling them in a fun way, but I wouldn’t want to spoil anything if you would prefer to read it yourself first in context. So, I have just listed them instead. I have been able to provide more information this way, though, so that will prove even more helpful for you. I have also included links of where you can read these texts.

Óðins ferðir. (Odin’s Journeys.)*

* Of course, I am not going to be able to cover them all. How could anyone keep up and catalogue his vast wanderings? Needless to say, Óðinn often goes by many names, and thus it can be challenging to pick him out in the literature (and that is a considerable undertaking for just one man to make). So, this list should at least expose you (and other folk interested in the wandering one) to reading material beyond the Eddas. In other words it is a start, but not a complete list by any means.

  • Gautreks saga, or “the Saga of King Gautrek”
    • Chapters 1 through 2: It is not for certain (in fact just my own speculation), but I feel that the figure King Gauti might be Óðinn in this saga. 
      • (In another saga called Bosi and Harraud, Óðinn is said to be his father. It is a bit complicated, but, whether actually Óðinn or not in this particular case, he is very similar to him and, in my opinion, that makes this worth reading in such a context).
    • Chapters 4 through 7: Here Óðinn appears as Grani Horsehair.
  • Sögubrot:
    • Chapters 8 and 9: Here Óðinn appears as Bruni
      • Although, I should point out that the translation I use does not explicitly make the connection known (Saxo’s History states this being the case, though). 
  • Volsunga saga, or “The Saga of the Volsungs”:
    • Chapters 1 through 2: Here Óðinn appears as himself, as he guides his son Sigi from the ‘underworld’ and helps to begin the Volsung dynasty.
    • Chapter 3: Now he appears as an old man.
    • Chapter 10: Now he appears briefly as a mysterious man.
    • Chapter 11: He appears as a man in a black cloak, but in the midst of a battle with his spear.
    • Chapter 13: Óðinn appears now as an old man with a long beard.
    • Chapter 14: Óðinn appears as himself again. This should be familiar, because it is told in the Prose Edda (Skáldskaparmál).
    • Chapter 17: Here Óðinn appears as an old man again (Fjolnir, but also Feng and Hnikar).
    • Chapter 18: Óðinn returns as an old man with a long beard.
    • Chapter 21: He again appears as himself (as well as Hropt, aka Roftar) and speaks with Brynhildr.
    • Chapter 44: Óðinn briefly appears as a one-eyed man, tall and ancient.
  • Ynglinga saga:
    • Chapters 2 through 9: This may not be what you are looking for exactly, but Óðinn appears here as playing a very earthly role. He appears as himself, but Snorri does not depict him as a god (at this point), but rather a very prominent figure of a distant historical past. 
      • He is referred to again later, but he does not actually appear.

Other Appearances:

Óðinn plays a role in Ragnars saga Loðbrókar, at least in the AM 147 4to version, but that one is less complete than the NkS 1824b 4to version, which is used in the translation that I have. In that version, though, Óðinn appears disguised as an old man named Roftar (ON: Hroptr), and he healed Sigurd, Ragnar’s son, of a festering wound. To return the favor, Sigurd would dedicate all those he slays in battle to Óðinn. Also, it was Óðinn (in this version) who is responsible for Sigurd’s snake-like markings by sprinkling dust in his eyes, and that gave him his nickname Sigurd Snake-in-the-eye

Again, I wish to point out that I have definitely forgotten some of his wanderings in the list above. I have done my best, however, to provide the most that I could think of or locate, so I do hope that you and other find this post helpful! This post actually acts as a bit of a weak peak for a bigger project that I have been working on. Anyway, thank you kindly for asking! I do apologize for taking awhile to answer back, but it took me some time to gather the resources together.

Vera vitur og reika langt.
(Be wise and wander far.)

Lesson 9d - Literature and the Sagas, Part IV: Kingly and Heroic Saga Literature.

Komið þið sæl,

Note: [If you have not done so already, check out last week’s lesson, which was Part III of this lesson series. Visit “Viking History” on my blog to view all of the lessons.]

This week, we will be discussing two genres of saga literature, king and mythical-hero. I will start by discussing the genres and then I will provide summaries of a few sagas that are well known from these categories. I will avoid summaries and spoiling details, but I will discuss the most popular kings and heroes that appear in these saga types. I will also try to avoid spoiling any of the stories too much.


  1. Konungasögur and Fornaldasögur
  2. Sigurðr and the Volsungs
  3. Ragnarr Loðbrók
  4. King Hrolf Kraki and Beowulf
  5. Performance

Konungasögur and Fornaldasögur

Konungasögur (King Sagas) are sagas that tell of the lives and feats of various, historical kings. The majority of sagas that fall under this category are in Heimskringla, a collection of Norwegian king sagas written by Snorri Sturluson. The centerpiece of this collection is the saga of Saint Olaf. The basis for these sagas come from skaldic poetry, for the court poets recorded the lives and achievements of their respective kings. Their verses are often quoted in sagas and as a result, they add authority to their credibility as well (at least in the eyes of their contemporary audience).

Fornaldasögur (Mythical-hero Sagas) tell of great heroes, far-flung events, and supernatural intervention. The majority of these sagas a set before the Viking Age (prior to 870, mostly). They present a world full of trolls, giants, dwarves, and tyrants. As a result, a lot of mythological information gets tied up into these works, which is quite useful for the study of lore and myth. These stories likely derive from oral tradition and were for entertainment and forging social bonds.

Keep reading


An Ingleri Viking Sword

Date: c. 1000 CE
Images: Taken by myself
Location: Lent to the Art Institute of Chicago (There on there date: August 10th, 2015 - not a permanent piece in the collection)
Origin: Scandinavia or Francia
Creator: Ingelri

Perhaps the most significant symbol of authority in the Viking Age was the sword. Sung about in the great legends, these swords carried with them a great deal of prestige and identity. The warrior elite would claim their power in their skills in combat but also in the origins of their equipment. Magical swords reveal themselves in many sagas, such as Sigurd’s with Gram and also the saga of Hrolf Kraki with Skofnung. These swords would remain with their owners even in the journey to the afterlife, serving as a unique symbol for each ruling elite warrior. 

The significance of these swords being buried with their champions is told in Hrolf Kraki’s saga, “A burial mound was built for King Hrolf, and the sword Skofnung was laid beside him. A mound was made for each of the champions, and each had his weapon beside him.” It is this same pattern seen before, where the warrior elite rise in the name of these legends, living them out and creating new ones for themselves to credit their authority. 

This sword has a latin inscription imbedded into the blade, Inglerii me fecit, which translates to “Ingleri made me”. It was likely made and imported from the Frankish Empire, symbolizing a control over trade networks as well as the capability of acquiring such a good.


Somerville and McDonald, The Viking Age: A Reader (Readings in Medieval Civilizations and Cultures: XIV, 2010), 172

Hrólfs saga kraka, in Fornaldarsögur Norðurlanda, ed. Guðni Jónsson, 4 vols. (Reykjavík, 1959), vol. 1, pp. 98-105

anonymous asked:

What drew you to studying Vikings and Nordic Lore? Do you have any tips for people who are interested in learning more (aside from reading your posts 😊)

Sæll (eða sæl),

I must say that the answer to such a question is a bit difficult for me to put into words. My path to the Vikings and Norse culture in general has not been a straightforward one. Some people come upon the interest through their heritage, but that was not the case for me; I only learned of my Scandinavian heritage after getting invested in the subject. I must add, though, that having heritage is not imperative to centering one’s life around Scandinavian culture and history. In fact, my heritage is actually quite insignificant. I only bring it up because many people cite such a reason for sparking their interest.

Nay, my interest came about in another way, and quite recently. It seems a bit distant now, but I first stumbled upon the subject two years ago. It happened when I signed up for a history class on something that I knew almost nothing about: Viking History. That class began (for me) in January of 2015. Yet, even while in that class, I was not set on studying the Vikings for the rest of my life. I spent a few months going back and forth between Vikings and Classics, actually, and it took me until the end of the following summer to realize what I truly loved (and that is when this blog was born). 

So, in the end, or at least up until this very point in time, I have only been studying this material for a mere year and half, and that is terribly short when considering the vast amount of information and texts that exist on this subject. Now, I suppose I still have yet to answer what actually drew me to studying Vikings. Truthfully, I cannot say for certain. There is no singular aspect of Viking studies that I could point to and thereby declare as the winner for convincing me to leave behind Classics in its favor. There is simply something indescribable about Scandinavian culture and history that I cannot express with words. It draws me ever onward into its grasp and I am forced to submit. Granted, I have gladly accepted such a fate. I suppose I describe my passion best through action, but to state such a passion in words would require a long list of fascinations that I happen to have, and my rambling is often unbearable enough as it is.

My advice, stated simply, is to read books, at least to start with. Read the Eddas, read a few sagas, read folklore, and perhaps pick up a Scandinavian language. You get far more form those things than you can from my blog, though I am honored that you consider it a suitable place to go! My blog is a mere summary of the riches preserved in those texts. Furthermore, once you know a language, a whole new world of opportunity opens up to you. That is currently where I stand in the process. I am currently learning Icelandic and seek to reach out to Icelanders so that I can learn more about their culture. Eventually I would like to learn Norwegian as well, but I can only take on so much at once. Anyway, I will be a bit more specific with the books I recommend, since that would likely be helpful (I hope):

  • Angus A. Somerville and R. Andrew McDonald ed., The Viking Age: A Reader, 2nd ed. (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2014). This contains many excerpts of primary source material, so it is a good source for getting vaguely familiar with everything.
  • Snorri Sturluson, The Prose Edda, Jesse L. Byock trans. (London: Penguin Books, 2005). A good copy if you have no familiarity with Norse mythology, but this text is not the complete Edda.
  • Carolyne Larrington trans., The Poetic Edda. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014).

Surly there are other books that would satisfy requirements as introductory material, but these are the texts that I have personally used to familiarize myself with the subject. There is still much reading to do, of course. Given the vastness of an entire culture and its past, one will never cease to learn new things about it. Anyway, I do hope I answered in the way that you hoped for.

Vera vitr og reika langt.
(Be wise and wander far.)

aphengland915  asked:

Could you recommend any books on Vikings/old Norse stuff/ Icelandic sagas/ basically any of the stuff you talk about? Nonfiction, fiction, I'll read anything when it's an interesting topic like that. Thanks so much!!! (Oh yeah and if you get more info from websites rather than books I'll take that too)


I am actually really glad that you asked me this question, since I am sure a lot of people will find this helpful. I have actually been working on compiling a list of books and resources for Medieval Scandinavian and Celtic Studies, so I definitely have quite a few I can recommend. The list is not done yet (nor will it ever be, honestly), but I eventually plan to post it and work on it together with the community here. 

For now I can provide you what I currently have. I will send you just the Norse material, since that is what you are asking for. If you want a detailed version of this list, see my “Sources” tab or follow this link. Otherwise, feel free to send another ask or message regarding any specific books or resources. 

Also, if you ever feel like talking about any of the material, or find a book I don’t have on my list, feel free to message me if you’d like. I would love to discuss with you and hear your thoughts.

Anyway, here it is:

Sources for Medieval Scandinavian Studies

Introduction to the Viking Age

  1. Haywood, John. The Penguin Historical Atlas of the Vikings. London: Penguin, 1995. <link>
  2. Somerville, Angus A., and McDonald, R. Andrew, ed. The Viking Age: A Reader, Second Edition (Readings in Medieval Civilizations and Cultures), Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2014. <link>

Viking Age Iceland and Saga Studies

Primary Sources:

(There are many sagas, so I am only providing ones I have read or own a translation of. Though, these three I am listing for medieval Iceland are regarded as the best of their tradition.)

  1. Cook, Robert, trans. Njal’s Saga. London: Penguin, 2001. <link>
  2. Magnusson, Magnus and Pálsson, Hermann, trans. Laxdæla Saga. London: Penguin, 1969. <link>
  3. Scudder, Bernard, trans. Egil’s Saga. Edited by Svanhildur Óskarsdóttir. London: Penguin, 2004. <link>

Secondary Sources:

  1. Andersson, Theodore M. The Growth of the Medieval Icelandic Sagas (1180–1280). Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2006. <link>
  2. Árnason, Vilhjálmur. “Morality and Social Structure in the Icelandic Sagas.” The Journal of English and Germanic Philology, Vol. 90, No. 2 (Apr., 1991), 157-174, Accessed March 25, 2016.
  3. Byock, Jesse L. Feud in the Icelandic Saga. Berkley: University of California Press, 1982. <link>
  4. Byock, Jesse L. Viking Age Iceland. London: Penguin, 2001. <link>
  5. Miller, William Ian. Bloodtaking and Peacemaking: Feud, Law, and Society in Saga Iceland. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990. <link>
  6. O’Donoghue, Heather. Skaldic Verse and the Poetics of Saga Narrative. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005. <(cannot find at reasonable price, yet)>
  7. Ross, Margaret C. “Realism and the Fantastic in the Old Icelandic Sagas.” Scandinavian Studies, Vol. 74, No. 4 (Winter 2002): 443-454, Accessed March 25, 2016.
  8. Turville-Petre, G. “On the Poetry of the Scalds and of the Filid.” Ériu, Vol. 22 (1971): 1-22. 

Online Sources:

  1. Berkeley —
  2. via Berkeley —
  3. via Berkeley —
  4. via Berkeley —
  5. Saga Translations —
  6. Manuscript Scans —

Mythological, Spiritual, and Heroic Material

Primary Sources:

  1. Byock, Jesse L., trans. The Saga of Hrolf Kraki. London: Penguin Classics, 1999. <link>
  2. Byock, Jesse L., trans. The Saga of the Volsungs. London: Penguin Classics, 2000. <link>
  3. Hatto, A. T., trans. The Nibelungenlied. London: Penguin Classics, 1965. <link>
  4. Orchard, Andy, trans. The Elder Edda: A Book of Viking Lore. London: Penguin Classics, 2011. <link>
    1. Other Available Versions:
      1. Hollander, Lee M., trans. The Poetic Edda. University of Texas Press, 1986. <link>
      2. Larrington, Carolyne, trans. The Poetic Edda. Oxford University Press, 2014. <link>
  5. Sturluson, Snorri. The Prose Edda. Translated by Jesse L. Byock. London: Penguin Classics, 2006. <link>
    1. Other Available Versions:
      1. Sturluson, Snorri. The Prose Edda. Translated by Arthur Gilchrist Brodeur. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2014. <link>
      2. Sturluson, Snorri. The Prose Edda. Translated by Rasmus B. Anderson. Simon & Brown, 2013. <link>

Secondary Sources:

  1. Andrén, Anders. “Behind “Heathendom”: Archaeological Studies of Old Norse Religion.” Scottish Archaeological Journal, Vol. 27, No. 2 (2005): 105-138.
  2. Chadwick, N. K. “Norse Ghosts (A Study in the Draugr and the Haugbúi)”. Folklore, Vol. 57, No. 2 (Jun., 1946): 50-65.
  3. Faraday, L. Winifred. “Custom and Belief in the Icelandic Sagas.” Folklore, Vol. 17, No. 4 (Dec. 31, 1906): 387-426.

Old Norse

  1. Byock, Jesse L. Viking Language 1: Learn Old Norse, Runes, and Icelandic Sagas. Jules William Press, 2013. <link>
  2. Byock, Jesse L. Viking Language 2: Learn Old Norse, Runes, and Icelandic Sagas. Jules William Press, 2014. <link>
  3. Zoëga, Geir T. A Concise Dictionary of Old Icelandic. Dover Publications, 2011. <link>

Online Sources:



  1. Hilmisdottir, Helga and Kozlowski, Jacek. Beginner’s Icelandic. Hippocrene Books, 2009. <link>

Mythical sword, part 1.

This sword was the sword of legendary Danish king Hrólf Kraki. “The best of all swords that have been carried in northern lands”, it was renowned for supernatural sharpness and hardness, as well as for being imbued with the spirits of the king’s 12 faithful berserker bodyguards.

It appears in saga unrelated to Hrólf, it being said that an Icelander, Skeggi of Midfirth, who was chosen by lot to break into the gravemound and plunder it, recovered the sword while doing so, so it may have had some historical reality. Other similar incidents are found in Norse literature, such as Grettir the Strong’s recovery of a sword from a burial mound. Events concerning the recovery of Skofnung are related in chapter 9 and 10 of Kormáks saga.

It also appears in the Laxdœla saga, where it has come into the possession of Eid of Ás. Eid is the son of Midfjardar-Skeggi, who had originally taken Skofnung from Hrólf Kraki’s grave. The sword is handed down from Eid to his kinsman Thorkel Eyjólfsson. Eid lends the sword to Thorkel to kill the outlaw Grim, who had killed Eid’s son. Thorkel fought Grim, but the two became friends, and Thorkel never returned the sword to Eid.

Skofnung is briefly lost when Thorkel’s ship is capsized while sailing around Iceland, and all of those on it drown. The sword stuck fast in some of the timbers of the ship, and washed ashore. It was thus recovered at some point by Thorkel’s son Gellir, as he is mentioned carrying it with him later in the saga. Gellir dies in Denmark returning from pilgrimage to Rome, and is buried at Roskilde, and it seems Skofnung was buried with him (near where the sword was recovered from the burial mound in the first place) because the saga records that Gellir had the sword with him “and it was not recovered afterwards”.

noahandhisdragons  asked:

Just started following your blog here, truly wonderfully packed full kernels of knowledge. I am interested in learning old Norse as well as Old English. Any suggestions on best approaches (books, etc) to learn it on my own?

I welcome you to my blog then! I am glad to know that you are satisfied by it, and I do hope it proves to be a helpful resource for you, if you so wish it to be. I post often about Old Norse, although I am still early on this road myself. I too am teaching myself the language and do plan to move onward to Old English one day. So, on that note, I think I can provide you with some helpful information, at least on the way that I have begun this same journey.

Regarding Old Norse/ Old Icelandic:

I recommend you start off with Jesse L. Byock’s The Viking Language 1: Learn Old Norse, Runes, and Icelandic Sagas. It was referred to me by my professor of Viking History, Dr. Knight, at the University of South Florida. 

These books may seem overwhelming at first, especially if you do not take it slowly, so do not rush to learn the vocabulary. Byock uses primary sources for examples from the very beginning, not modern, made-up examples. So in chapter one of the first book, you are already reading original Old Norse material! Each book is around $35 and can easily be found on Amazon or Barnes & Noble. There is also a great deal of history and cultural background in these books, which enriches the language as you learn it.

As for Byock’s background, he is a professor at UCLA - University of California, Los Angles. He focuses in Old Norse and Medieval Scandinavian Studies. You can read more at this link or this link if you are curious about him and his other works. He has a book about the history of Viking Age Iceland as well as translations of the Prose Edda (although not a complete edition) and Hrolf Kraki’s Saga (Which you translate some of this saga near the end of book 1 and more in book 2).

I personally recommend taking time to make some kind of flashcards or tables of the vocabulary and grammatical concepts as they are introduced. You can find a few on my blog under the ‘Learn Old Norse’ tab, along with certain words and their meanings. I myself have been making a digital file of the vocabulary as I go so that I may search it when I need to find a word’s meaning. (It is faster, but there can be value in taking the time to look up the full dictionary entry in the back). I also use this for digital flashcards that I put on my phone to study on the go. 

Also, try to find material to read that is in Old Norse, I know of a site that you can test your knowledge (or at the very least test your familiarity). It is a database of sagas and it features some in original Old Norse spelling. You can check that out at this link. I do suggest to also read aloud at times to help with pronunciation. Definitely try to engage with the written material that is available (and that goes for Old English as well). Feel free to play around with what you learn as well, such as formulating your own sentences or sayings.

If you are interested in learning modern Icelandic, this is also a good way to introduce yourself to that language, by learning Old Norse/ Old Icelandic beforehand (like a bridge).

Regarding Old English:

For this, I cannot be of as much help, since I have yet to get around to learning Old English, however, I can provide you the books that I would consider.

If you want a more scholarly approach to the language (more for reading and translating), I would suggest this book by Mark Atherton:

He is a professor at the University of Oxford and focuses in Old English there. You can learn more about him and his other works at this link. This book seems to be a little more difficult to obtain, but it is available through third party sellers on Amazon. Most of the reviews are positive for the book, and those reviews have said that it uses real Old English sources in its examples as well.

If you want something more casual, perhaps this book by Matt Love would be more suitable (if not in companionship with the other book I mentioned):

 It does not seem that he is a professor, but he approaches the language as if it were still a living one. Still, the book has many positive reviews and many do praise it for its more easily understandable and casual approach. You can find it here on Amazon.

I hope that this helps your efforts in learning these beautiful languages. If you have any further questions or concerns, please feel free to ask or send me a message any time. Overall, I recommend starting off with a book and engaging yourself in the material the best that you can. Often it is hard to find someone to have a conversation with, so reading and making resources for yourself (like digital files and flashcards) can be very helpful. In other words, take it slow and enjoy the journey!

If anyone else has anything that they found particularity helpful in learning these languages (or any language on their own for that matter), feel free to add onto this! I am by no means an expert, so I am sure there are other methods and resources out there that I am not yet aware of.

Best Regards,
Fjorn the Skald