The Part of the Whole. Cosmology as an Empirical and Analytical Concept

  • CATHARINA RAUDVERE University of Copenhagen


In the study of Old Norse religion, mythology and cosmology are two core concepts frequently used in inter-disciplinary discussions as to the content, changes and spread of the pre-Christian religion in Scandinavia. The article discusses the concept of cosmology in relation to religion and world-view, with examples from picture-stones and from mythological and heroic texts. Cosmology is not a criterion of religion, any more than the occurrence of an explicitly formulated cosmology necessarily implies that the aim in presenting a world-view is exclusively religious. We may be justified in looking closely at a body of material that is to be studies and asking ourselves where its systematicity is formulated: in the researcher’s argumentation, in a compiler like Snorri, or in the emic tradition? And not least, which individual narratives in the local tradition are singled out as cosmological? Hybrid forms are rarely identified by studying cosmologies as doctrinal systems. The representation of world-views can take other forms than systematised accounts, but then they are less easily accessible to research. In a discussion of the concept of cosmology, there may be good reason to ask what motifs in text and image recurring over a long time imply for different interpretations and what their ambivalence means for their analysis today. The as now, there is a wide range of possibilities when it comes to the interpretation of individual expressions. The explanatory value of concepts such as cosmology, or for that matter mythology, is sometimes obscure, since the terms are used to capture a particular type of empirical material rather than to answer an analytical question. Cosmology and mythology thus refer to a certain kind of content in narratives rather than to the normal meaning of the term cosmology, i.e. a coherent doctrine of the universe that takes into consideration both the spatial aspects of the word cosmos and systematic knowledge, logos.
How to Cite
RAUDVERE, CATHARINA. The Part of the Whole. Cosmology as an Empirical and Analytical Concept. Temenos - Nordic Journal of Comparative Religion, [S.l.], v. 45, n. 1, nov. 2011. ISSN 2342-7256. Available at: <>. Date accessed: 18 oct. 2017.