Norse Religion and Ritual Sites in Scandinavia in the 6th – 11th century
By Lars Jørgensen
Die Wikinger und das Fränkische Reich. Identitäten zwischen Konfrontation und Annäherung. Unter Mitarb. von Nicola Karthaus, ed. Kerstin P. Hofmann, Hermann Kamp und Matthias Wemhoff (München: Fink, 2014)
Abstract: Today we have increasing opportunities for archaeological identification of the pre-Christian rites in the various accounts given by the written sources. Against the background of new archaeological investigations that relate the magnates’ residences to the religious activities, it is possible to build an interpretative model that provides a more specific account of the function of the elite and the organization of the pre-Christian cult.
The reason for this is not a theory that the elite alone practiced the cult, but rather that the primary archaeological sources in the form of ritual objects, cult buildings and sacrificial complexes are mainly associated with the magnates’ residences. These large settlement complexes very likely functioned as supra-regional cult centres to which the rest of the population came at certain periods.
Introduction: Over time the Norse mythology we know from the Old Norse Eddic poetry and the sagas has provided a framework for a fascinating picture of the Norse religion in the time before Christianity. The pre-Christian religion in the North in the Late Iron Age and Viking era, however, consists of much more than just myths and leg-ends about the anthropomorphic ﬁgures of the period.
In the time shortly before the beginning of our era there was probably a change in the religious convictions and activities of the people of the past. Names of Greek and Roman gods gradually begin to appear in various linguistic sources related to the religion of the Northern Iron Age. Religion changed slowly, and in the course of the Iron Age there was a change in the identity of the religion. In parallel with a growing influence from the classical Mediterranean area, mediated by among other things the expanding Roman Empire, the gods of the Late Iron Age and Viking era changed and took on the forms familiar from the legends.
Our knowledge of the cosmological and mythological beliefs of the Viking Era is based primarily on the written sources of the post-Viking Middle Ages, which describe the gods and heroes of the Vikings and the myths surrounding them. However, the picture we get from the Icelandic sagas and the Eddic poetry cannot by itself create a verifiable picture of the identity and activities of religion then.
A credible account of the interplay that took place between the population then and the pre-Christian cult, and the underlying organizational structure, requires an analysis that encompasses not only the written remains, but in particular includes the now extensive archaeological source material that is accessible today.