Rich and Powerful: The Image of the Female Deity in Migration Age Scandinavia

Rich and Powerful: The Image of the Female Deity in Migration Age Scandinavia

By Rudolf Simek

Old Norse Myths, Literature and Society Proceedings of the 11th International Saga Conference 2-7 July 2000, University of Sydney, edited by Geraldine Barnes and Margaret Clunies Ross (Sydney, 2000)

Sif (1909) by John Charles Dollman

Introduction: In the archeological sources that we have for the first millenium, there is no shortage of depictions of the human figure in the Germanic areas of Western and Northern Europe. The breadth of material ranges from carved wooden figures to metal figurines, cast figures on brooches and pendants, imprinted realisations in precious metal such as on gold bracteates and guldgubber, paintings and reliefwork on picturestones and gravestones, as well as wooden carvings and textile weavings with figurative patterns. In many cases we can easily distinguish between depictions of the male and the female, in others it is possible but less obvious.

A greater number of these human representations are pictures of armed people of various kinds, which have so far always been interpreted as male warriors. They are not necessarily always living humans, but sometimes corpses, sometimes they are part-human, sometimes heroic and sometimes divine, and this is a distinction we should keep in mind.

Weapons are not the only possible way of identifying males, and other more obvious attributes may suggest male divine figures: one-eyed figures are normally interpreted as a male god, and, although this divinity is less obvious with a little bronze figurine from Rällinge in Södermannland (10th century) which is usually identified as the god Freyr, its masculinity is beyond doubt whether god or not. An amulet-like figurine of a capped and bearded figure from Iceland is normally considered to be Thor with his hammer, although scholars have identified the object he holds in various ways as his beard (Gjærder; Eldjarn), or, by Lotte Motz, as a double flute, and most recently by Richard Perkins as his rather outsize moustache. All three interpretations are somewhat unsatisfactory, but one thing is fairly certain, namely that the beard implies the depiction of a male1 , even if its divinity is somewhat doubtful.

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