Old Customs

The Vernacular Word siðr and Its Cognates in the Study of (Lived) Religion in Viking and Medieval Scandinavia

  • Andreas Nordberg Stockholm University


Although they highlight the Norse (religious) term siðr ‘custom’ and its cognates, some researchers of pre-Christian Scandinavia suggest that the concept of religion involves a Christocentric discourse and should be used cautiously, or even only for Christianity. Some scholars therefore recommend a categorical distinction between pre-Christian (religious) siðr and Christian religion. This paper contributes to this ongoing discussion. I argue that while it is meaningful to highlight the term siðr and its cognates, the distinction between pre-Christian siðr and medieval Christian religion is problematic. 1) While siðr had various meanings in vernacular language, the current debate emphasises only its religious aspect, thus turning the indigenous term into an implicit etic concept. 2) The word siðr and its cognates were also used in medieval Scandinavian languages as designations for Christianity, and hence, the categorisation of pre-Christian siðr and medieval Christian religion is misleading. 3) The distinction between popular siðr and formal religion is fundamentally based on the two-tier model of popular/folk religion–religion. 4) The vernacular (religious) word siðr in the sense of ‘religious customs, the religious aspects of the conventional way of life’ and the heuristic category of (lived) religion are in fact complementary in the study of religion in both Viking and medieval Scandinavia.

How to Cite
Nordberg, A. (2018). Old Customs. Temenos - Nordic Journal of Comparative Religion, 54(2), 125-47. Retrieved from https://journal.fi/temenos/article/view/69935