Ascending the Steps to Hliðskjálf: The Cult of Óðinn in Early Scandinavian Aristocracy

Odins Riddles

Ascending the Steps to Hliðskjálf: The Cult of Óðinn in Early Scandinavian Aristocracy

By Joshua Rood

Master’s Thesis, University of Iceland, 2017

Odins Riddles

Abstract: This thesis is a study of the cult of Óðinn as it seems to have evolved within the newly emerging warrior-based aristocracy of southern Scandinavia during the centuries prior to the Viking Age. By approaching sources critically and focusing on archaeological evidence, it looks specifically at how the deity developed within the said milieu and at the uses his cult may have served for those who worshipped him. It subsequently seeks to address other related questions such as when Óðinn came to become associated with warrior-kings in Scandinavia, where this seems to have occurred, and how it might have happened, including an examination of the social and political influences that might have been involved in the development.

By means of this process, the study attempts to provide contextual insight into the relationship that seems to have existed between rulers and religion in pre-Christian southern Scandinavia. As is well known, the later medieval literary sources often portray Óðinn as being the ultimate sovereign, ruling over other gods and earthly rulers alike. This thesis attempts to shed some new light on the centuries prior to these accounts, offering a model of an earlier manifestation of the god who would become the “alfǫðr”.

Introduction: Óðinn was called Alfǫðr (Allfather). He was there in the beginning, and shaped the world, and he will live forever, until the end of time. He gave life to Askr and Embla, the oldest ancestors of mankind. He was the first god, the highest god, and the god who ordained other gods to rule under him. He gave them twelve rǫkstólar (judgement-seats), but the high-seat was his alone. From his seat, Hliðskjálf, set at the edge of heaven, the alfǫðr could see over all of the world. In his hall, Valhǫll, thatched with shields, Valfǫðr (Father of the chosen-slain) hosted an army made up of the greatest kings, rulers, and warriors who have ever lived. All great men who died in battle came to him.

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