Ancient Skies of Northern Europe: Stars, Constellations, and the Moon in Nordic Mythology
By Timothy J. Stephany
Published Online (2006)
Introduction: Our understanding of ancient astronomy in Northern Europe has been limited because no record exists of the native constellations among the Germanic tribes in ancient times. They certainly did not know of the constellations of the south have become our standard ones today. However, it would be unusual to suppose they never had any, only that the knowledge of them has not come down to us.
Fortunately, the surviving mythology of Scandinavia has left us enough clues to allow us to piece together this forgotten knowledge of the past. At the time these myths were recorded in 13th century Iceland the people no longer believed in the old religion. However, even back during the Viking Age, before the year 1000 AD, when the religion was still strong, many of the beliefs held then seem already to have been understood only in abstract terms, while the naturalistic explanations they embodied went back even further.
It is now clear that the mythology of Scandinavia as we know it arose from a fusion of traditional local gods with several other more widespread traditions. While the myths attained their present form within the Iron Age, some elements and aspects of it go back even into the Stone Age, when humans were first trying to make sense of their universe.
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