Version 30 Oct 2019
The Aarhus’ Mythology Conference Bergen 31/10-1/11/2019
Theme: Methodology in Mythology

Margaret Clunies Ross: Prolonged Echoes Twenty-five Years Later

My talk today will be an attempt to evaluate my own contribution to our understanding of Old Norse mythology and its context in the culture of early Nordic society. Its focus will be on the first volume of Prolonged Echoes: Old Norse myths in medieval Northern society. Vol. I: The myths (1994). Inevitably, when reviewing one’s own work, my approach will begin at the personal level. I will discuss first what intellectual background brought me to adopt the methodology I used in Prolonged Echoes, and then say why I thought, and still think, that this particular methodology was effective. I will then go on to consider the limitations of my approach and how it relates to the research interests of scholars working in the field of Old Norse mythology at the present time.

John Lindow: (The Concept of Old Norse) Mythology. A Critical Discussion (of Early Scholarship)

This presentation surveys and analyzes the concepts of mythology used in early modern scholarship, from Resen and Mallet through Grimm to Simrock and Holtzmann. All these scholars saw the object of study as ‘mythology’ (usually Old Norse, sometimes ‘German’), but they used the term in a variety of ways: body of (poetic?) texts, religion, a system, (expert?) analysis. a scholarly discourse. These concepts remain good to think with.

Simon Nygaard: Typological Comparisons or Why it Is Important to Know Many Religions: Sacral rulers in pre-Christian Nordic religion revisited

As has been highlighted by Jens Peter Schjødt, comparison is indispensable to the process of (re)constructing pre-Christian Nordic religion. We may distinguish between two types of comparison in this work, ‘genetic’ and ‘typological’. Genetic comparison features religions that are connected linguistically, economically, or historically. Typological comparison feature religions that are not seemingly connected in any way – except for belonging to a similar type of religion or society.
This paper builds on an article in Temenos from 2016 (‘Sacral rulers in pre-Christian Scandinavia: The possibilities of typological comparisons within the paradigm of cultural evolution’) which offered a new perspective on the century-old discussion of sacral rulers in the history of religions generally, and pre-Christian Nordic religion specifically, namely the application of a cultural evolutionary theoretical framework based on the work of Robert N. Bellah. Through doing this, it was possible to argue for the relevance of a comparison with pre-Christian Hawaiian religion. Recently, research in this vein has been conducted in comparative archaeology by, for instance, Neil Price and John Ljungkvist, as well as Mads Ravn.
This paper presents a comparison between the figure of the sacral ruler in pre-Christian Nordic and pre-Christian Hawaiian religion through an analysis of 1) the position of the ruler in society, cult, and ideology; 2) the societal structure in which these religions are found; 3) the idea of a ruler sacrifice; 4) incestuous relationships and their ideological implications; and, finally, 5) the idea of a double rulership. Following this comparison, the perspectives in and the usefulness of cultural evolutionary theories in the history of religions are briefly evaluated.

Luke John Murphy & Giulia Mancini: Comparative Approaches to Old Norse Religion: Nordic Myth and Praxis in the Light of European «Ethnic» Religions

Since the fathers of the discipline, comparativism has held a special place in the Study of Religion. In modern times, scholars favor a new approach to comparativism, attempting to thread a line between “human universals” and individual cultural aspects. This paper seeks to contribute to the discussion by reflecting on the use of comparativism to study so-called “contiguous” religious cultures. To do so, we will consider on the pros and cons of a comparative approach to the study of Indo-European religions, drawing on three case studies to illustrate our points: the first examines mythology and belief, making an attempt reconstruct Skaði’s late Pagan role using the Classical goddesses Artemis and Diana as guides for the analysis. The second employs a paradigm of domestic, familial, and household religions practiced in the Antique Near East and Mediterranean to analyze textual and archaeological evidence for household cult in the Nordic Late Iron Age. The third considers the limits of our etic terminology when it comes to cross-cultural studies of early-Medieval sacrifice. By comparing the results – and shortcomings – of these studies, we hope to be able to draw some general considerations on the methodological pros and cons of comparativism within an Indo-European context.

Joonas Ahola: Original, indigenous or vernacular? Approaches to non-Christian elements of mythology and religion in Finland

In this paper, I will discuss different ways that scholars in time have approached the relatively late narrative and belief traditions from the 19th and 20th centuries in order to construct the Finnish mythology, or pre-Christian religion. The reason that scholars have resorted to such late traditions is that earlier accounts of verbalized conceptions are very scarce. The gap between the cultural context of the source materials and the period that these source materials are supposed to illustrate is remarkable, which has forced scholars to rely largely on theoretical models in reconstructing, or constructing, the mythology, which has led to different traits in the history of ideas affecting the results. I will discuss different conceptions of ‘mythology’ as related to ‘religion’ and how they have been related to the basic concepts of ‘time’ and ‘Finnish people’ in the scholarly discourse. As an example, I intend to show how tonttu (Swe. tomte), the guardian spirit of the house, has been treated in different constructions of Finnish mythology.

Andreas Nordberg: Folkloristic sources in Old Norse research? Some retrospective thoughts on the early debate on the last sheaf

Why is it considered controversial to use late folkloristic sources in studies of religion in earlier cultural periods? In the present paper, I discuss the academic turnabouts during the first half of the 20th century, that led to a break between Folkloristics and History of Religions in Sweden. At the heart of this conflict was the question of cultural survivals, especially in popular customs related to harvest and the last sheaf. I maintain that late folkloristic material cannot simply be lifted out from its socio-cultural contexts and be projected onto much earlier periods in the way for example evolutionist scholars did, but also that every custom and conception has a history, and that there may be occasions when folklorists, historians of religion and archaeologists together can contribute to a common cumulative research into a sometimes long and varied history of tradition.

Else Mundal: Vǫluspá as a source for Old Norse religion in 2019

There has been written more about Vǫluspá than any other eddic poem. This could perhaps indicate that the chances of new interpretations are not as likely in comparison to what we could expect concerning poems on which far less has been written. On the other hand, Vǫluspá is an extremely rich and complicated poem, and raises more questions than most other poems. In my paper, I want to draw attention to two approaches, or principles of analysis, that are still of current interest, and which I find not only useful but necessary to keep in mind when investigating long and complicated poems like Vǫluspá. The first principle of analysis is to take the genre, or the type of text of a certain poem – in this case Vǫluspá – as a point of departure. Vǫluspá is counted among the mythological eddic poems. It is, however, obvious that Vǫluspá is a mythological poem of a different type than most of the others. A mythological poem normally retells one myth. Vǫluspá combines many myths that did not exist as one unit in the oral tradition upon which the poem builds. There is no doubt that combining myths into a new unit, or new whole, is a very different task from retelling one myth, and that this difference must have consequences for the understanding and analysis of the poem.
The other principle of analysis of the poem is the necessity of consistency between the meaning/interpretation of individual stanzas, or blocks of stanzas, and the whole poem. Most analyses of Vǫluspá are analyses only of one or a few stanzas. For practical reasons it is not possible in a short article to place an analysis of a one stanza within the whole poem. This is a problem because an analysis of any stanza of a poem must be meaningful when seen both in isolation and in the context of the whole poem.

Haukur Þorgeirsson: The Dating of Eddic Poetry

The problems with the preservation and dating of Eddic poetry are put into a wider context by comparison with ancient Greek, Roman and Vedic literature as well as the corpus of Icelandic medieval rímur poetry. In this general context, I make an attempt to establish methodological principles for how dating criteria can be evaluated. Finally, I attempt to apply these considerations to evaluate several linguistic and stylistic criteria that have been proposed for the dating of Eddic poetry.

Jens Peter Schjødt: Argumenta ex silentio – an evaluation from a methodological perspective

In this paper it will attempt to rethink some of the problems involved in the use of argumenta ex silentio when applied on the textual sources, which we use for reconstructing the pre-Christian religion of Scandinavia. One point is that we cannot use or reject such arguments in general; the use or the rejection will depend on what parts of the religion we are focusing upon. Another point is that we cannot make a sharp distinction between the use of argumenta ex silentio and the principles of source criticism more generally: Argumenta ex silentio are used, not only when information is lacking in the sources, but also when information is actually transmitted in sources that for one or another reason have been deemed ‘unreliable’. The paper will briefly give a few examples such procedures.

Jan A. Kozák: Myth and Metaphor: The Untapped Potential of Semiotics and Cognitive Linguistics for the Study of Myth

The Old Norse mythology contains a certain number of motifs of body transformation that serve as crucial points of the cosmogonic process. Gods or other anthropomorphic beings are sacrificed or wounded in various ways and these acts translate directly to the establishment of the Cosmos and its various features.
As a part of my presentation, I will review a number of myths concerning the most prominent gods – Óðinn, Týr, Heimdallr, Loki and others – and provide an analysis of the symbolic logic that governs the seemingly surreal narratives. I will show that the types of transformations in the myths correspond to the basic types of tropes: metaphor, metonymy, synecdoche, irony. This perspicuous alignment of tropes and myths illustrates that they are related phenomena and that we need cognitive linguistics and the study of conceptual metaphors if we want to understand “the language of myth”.
As a theoretical commentary I would like to formulate several notes on the problem of “the language of myth”, revising well known psychoanalytical, structuralist or socio-anthropological conceptions of how we should read myths.

Frog: Orality behind the Source Texts

Oral traditions or either direct or indirect knowledge based on oral traditions tends to be assumed for the vast majority of source materials for Old Norse religion, and the ability for people to interpret iconographic objects and monuments is equally assumed to be dependent on orally-transmitted knowledge. In spite of the implicit centrality of orality to many discussions, its implications for the sources and their interpretations remain under-discussed. This presentation opens a few of the many issues related to orality and its connection with the sources, with emphasis on variation, which is central to understanding orality. Eddic poetry is given particular attention for exploring this topic. The presentation opens with a brief address of the tendency to see orality and literacy as opposed and exclusive categories. It then briefly considers different systems of verbal art before outlining some perspectives on variation from the verbalization of poetry to the organization of information or narration and the potential for elements of poems or stories to have distinct pedigrees.

Pernille Hermann: Memory Studies and their Relevance for Old Norse Mythology

‘Memory Studies’ is one of the relatively new approaches to the study of Old Norse mythology. It is an umbrella term that covers multiple gateways to a study of memory, and so far it is particularly the concepts of collective memory, cultural memory and mnemonics that have been applied to Old Norse mythology. This talk will focus on the branch of Memory Studies that concerns mnemonics. It will deal with memory in the mythology, and attention will be paid to memory as a privileged knowledge and as a technique. Moreover, the talk will contain some reflections on the idea that the thirteenth-century authors and scribes were consciously engaged with the resource of memory.

Sofie Laurine Albris: Linking archaeology and sacral place names

Archaeology and place name studies are two separate disciplines, each with their own methodological problems. Linking the two types of source material involves all the issues of both disciplines and the pitfalls of circular arguments are many. With all this in mind, the two materials have their individual strengths, meaning that bringing them together has the potential to give us a better understanding of Old Norse religion.
One key issue is that of chronology: our ability to date human activities at a site and relate them in time to the coining of a place name is important. However, we also need to understand the biography of a place in a long-time perspective.
Another theme is terminology and the nature of religious or ritual sites and activities. We rarely know exactly what type of word related to what kind of site – and this may have varied between regions and/or changed over time. Sacral place names can denote places with hardly any human activity or with centuries of continued sacrifices or other rituals. In fact, some sites that seem to have had religious importance have no known sacral place names. Nevertheless, with excavations and metal finds, especially through the last 20-30 years, we have a growing number of sites that can be interpreted as ritual or religious that are linked topographically to known sacral place names. Such finds reinforce the weight of the evidence of place names, but also present us with new questions as we begin to see the diversity of religious sites, even between those that we link with similar types of place names.

Anders Andrén: Rituals from material culture

In this overview archaeological studies of rituals will be discussed. Firstly, the methodological challenges will be addressed. Secondly, different possible solutions to these challenges will be presented. Finally, three ritual places in present-day Sweden will be used to show the ritual complexity and variation, namely Käringsjön in Halland, Skedemosse on Öland and Uppåkra in Skåne.

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