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Of Fire and Water

The Old Norse Mythical Worldview in an Eco-Mythological Perspective

By Mathias Nordvig

The overall purpose of this dissertation is to address the subject of worldview in the context of Old Norse mythology. To this end, I ask the question:

(1) What is the constitution of the Old Norse worldview according to the literary mythological sources in terms of man’s relationship with nature? What is the relationship between the conceptual categories of culture and nature, or civilized and wild (byggð and óbyggð, innangarðs and útangarðs) as it is expressed in the æsir’s dealings with the surrounding world in the myth of Þórr’s Fishing Expedition, the Creation Myth, and the myth of the Mead of Poetry in the Edda version? How do the actions of the gods in these narratives express man’s mythical notions of his relationship with the land and sea in the Scandinavian and North Atlantic ecoystems?

To answer this question we must first establish what is meant by the term ‘worldview,’ because this is not at all clear or consistent in Old Norse scholarship. The term is used widely by scholars of different disciplines, from literature and religion to archaeology. The subject has grown in popularity over the past forty decades (see pages 60-72), and the term ‘worldview’ has become commonplace in scholarship. It often supplants the term ‘cosmology’ in the context of Old Norse mythology in interdisciplinary discussion (e.g., Hultgård 2008, 213 – 15; Schjødt 2008b, 220), or in the juxtaposition of paganism and Christianity (Gräslund & Lager 2008, 637). It may also be used to describe a popular understanding of Old Norse religion and mythology contrary to a dogmatic or authoritative one (Raudvere 2008, 235 – 42). In other instances, the term is applied by some scholars as a designation for a social ideology that is essentially unconsciously implemented in society and individual life (Clunies Ross 1994, 11 – 19; Hastrup 1990, 25 – 66).

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(H/T Medievalists.net)

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