The Materiality of Myth

Divine Objects in Norse Mythology

  • Sara Ann Knutson University of California, Berkeley.

Abstract

The vivid presence of material objects in Scandinavian cosmology, as preserved in the Old Norse myths, carries underexplored traces of belief systems and the material experience of Iron Age Scandinavia (400–1000 CE). This paper proposes an archaeological reading of Norse mythology to help explain how ancient Scandinavians understood the presence and role of deities, magic, and the supernatural in everyday life. The Norse myths retain records of material objects that reinforced Scandinavian oral traditions and gave their stories power, memory, and influence. From Thor’s hammer and Freyja’s feathered cloak to Sigyn’s bowl and Ran’s net, such materials and the stories they colour are informed by everyday objects of Iron Age life – spun with the magic, belief, and narrative traditions that made them icons. The mythic objects promoted a belief system that expected and embraced the imperfections of objects, much like deities. These imperfections in the divine Norse objects and the ways in which the gods interact with their materials are part and parcel of the Scandinavian religious mentality and collective social reality. This work ultimately questions the relationship between materiality and myth, and seeks to nuance our current understandings of the ancient Scandinavian worldview based on the available textual evidence.

Published
2019-06-29
How to Cite
Knutson, S. A. (2019). The Materiality of Myth: Divine Objects in Norse Mythology. Temenos - Nordic Journal of Comparative Religion, 55(1), 29-53. https://doi.org/10.33356/temenos.83424