The Oneiromancy of Laxdæla saga: A Psychoanalytic interpretation of the dreams of Laxdæla saga

The Oneiromancy of Laxdæla saga: A Psychoanalytic interpretation of the dreams of Laxdæla saga

By Suzanne Valentine

Master’s Thesis, University of Iceland, 2016

19th century illustration to Laxdœla saga

Abstract: Dreams are a substantial part of the Icelandic sagas, playing a role in the development of the plot as well as the characters. Past scholarship has focused primarily on how saga dreams aid in the narrative trajectory, rather than what they say specifically about a character’s oneiric cognition. This thesis will look at the dreams that appear in Laxdæla saga, specifically seven of them, through the contrasting psychoanalytic lenses of Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung. I will look at Freud’s theory of wish-fulfilment as it pertains to the series of dreams of Guðrún Ósvífrsdóttur, attempting to reconstruct the latent thoughts that form her dreams, despite the questionable conscious origin of them. Jung’s theories of universal symbolism are also applicable to Guðrún’s dreams, exemplifying what those symbols mean in terms of the Unconscious mind.

Jung’s theory will similarly be applied to the “draumkonur” that appear throughout the saga, emphasizing how their presence can be seen as a personification of the Unconscious. Through this idea of universal dream symbolism I will also attempt to contextualize the Icelandic saga dreams with dream literature in continental medieval Europe. Throughout this thesis I will confront the problems that arise due to the nature of the dreams being literary constructs, and I will attempt to show that these psychoanalytic theories are pertinent to the study of the saga dreams, despite the initial trepidations.

Introduction: Dreams have always been an important part of literature, from biblical stories to current popular novels, they add to the plot structure and allow a glimpse further into the character’s consciousness. In medieval literature dreams were used in abundance, with many different visionary sources and outcomes, and the medieval Icelandic sagas show this same tendency. The family sagas often use oneiric visions as a means of foreshadowing events, but they are not always as straightforward as those seen in the fornaldarsögur, such as Völsunga saga, in which the dreams are very obvious predictions of what will happen as the saga progresses.

Rather the Íslendingasögur tend to contain somewhat ambiguous dreams, using symbolism as well as revenant-like figures, that may give some distorted idea of what is about to come. These dreams can also act as a protecting or damning force for the dreamer. In Laxdæla saga the dreams take all of these forms. I will focus on seven of them throughout this thesis, four that are dreamt in serial by a single character and three that are connected only through a similar oneiric figure.

Click here to read this thesis from the University of Iceland

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