Myths of the Viking or Old Norse World unravelled at the University of Aberdeen

Viking or Old Norse mythology and theory will be in the spotlight as experts from across the world gather at the University of Aberdeen for a conference which could change our understanding of the Old Norse Gods and Goddesses.

The Centre for Scandinavian Studies will host an international conference at which speakers will reassess and qualify current scholarly opinion with contributions from literary historians, linguists, archaeologists, ethnologists and historians of religions.

At the event, to be held on October 22 and 23, contributors will consider new ways of looking at written sources and the additional information which can be extracted from, for example, place names and through archaeology.

Researchers argue that this could change our view on the Old Norse Gods and Goddesses, including Thor, the famous god of thunder, Odin, considered the chief god, and Freya, goddess of love.

Professor Brink, Chair in Scandinavian Studies at Aberdeen, said: “The foundation for the understanding of the Old Scandinavian pagan mythological world up to now was carved out in the 1960s - the main sources being the 13th century Icelandic Historian Snorri Sturluson’s Edda and the Old Norse poems.

“Today literary historians, and especially historians of religions, approach these literary sources with a fresh and more anthropological and sociological point of departure, hence new questions being asked and new information gained.

“Recent studies of place names show regional imbalances in Scandinavia, thus there was probably no homogeneous ‘Viking Pagan Mythology’.  It is mainly thanks to archaeology new information and especially new ideas have arisen, such as Viking burial rituals which suggests the Vikings had no defined religion, but instead made up a set of spiritual beliefs, which were then acted out at the grave.

“These became a form of theatre that predates the sagas and may have contained the origins of Norse mythology.

 “All these new evidences and reinterpretations taken together forces us to rewrite our history of this past.”

Since 2005, when Scandinavian scholars assembled in Aarhus, Denmark, to discuss progress in the study of Old Norse mythology, interest in the field has been growing.

This has focused in particular on the reassessment of its theoretical-methodological foundations, which has recently resulted in new research projects, PhD theses and academic articles. 

The gathering also generated a new fascination for the topic amongst the general public, leading to several museum exhibitions and newspaper articles. 

The scale of interest took scholars by surprise and, in response, leading academics decided to meet and discuss methodological foundations, sources and current issues in the field of Old Norse mythology at an annual conference. 

The aim is to construct a new theoretical foundation for future study, through discussion of a vital aspect of Early Scandinavian culture, history and religion - namely our pagan mythology.

In 2008 it was decided that the 2009 conference should take place in Aberdeen, organised by the Centre for Scandinavian Studies.

Participant speakers will reassess and qualify current scholarly opinion, and papers are expected to provoke lively debate. 

The conference will welcome as speakers: Professors Margaret Clunies Ross, University of Sydney; John Lindow, Berkeley, Joseph Harris, Harvard; Rudy Simek, University of Bonn; Jens Peter Schjødt, University of Aarhus; John McKinnell, University of Durham; Doctors Judy Quinn, University of Cambridge; Pernille Hermann, University of Aarhus; Torun Zachrisson, University of Stockholm; Terry Gunnell, University of Reykjavík; and Sebastian Cöllen, University of Uppsala.

Internal scholars, including Professors Robert Segal, Stefan Brink, Neil Price and Dr Karen Bek-Pedersen, of the University of Aberdeen, will also speak at the event.

Professor Brink added: “We anticipate two days of intensive discussions and we are glad that we have been able to attract some of the leading international experts in the field to come to Aberdeen.

“We are also happy that the newly established Centre for Scandinavian Studies at the University of Aberdeen has been giving this opportunity to put the Centre and our University on the academic map in the field of Viking and Old Norse Studies.“