ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

The Christianization of Norse Mythology

Updated on July 17, 2012

The Problem with Norse Myth

Despite the plethora of works describing Norse myth, it is incredibly difficult to analyze Norse myth and culture. Simply put, what information we have at current about Norse mythology is, while abundant, not necessarily true. In taking hold of Scandinavia, Christianity neatly subsumed Norse mythology over several hundred years and progressively diluted it into nonexistence. Consequently, what Norse myths we have left show a large Christian influence.

In the early years of Christianity, much of western and northern European subscribed to some variation or another of a Germanic religion. Given the relative isolation of Scandinavia, it’s not surprising that when Christianity began to spread, it would reach it much later than other parts of Europe. The effect of this delayed conversion is highlighted well by the difference in the amount of pagan literature in England and in Scandinavia. Anglo-Saxon England has little literature to boast because writing became common long after pagan stories had faded into oblivion, and what does remain is heavily Christianized. Scandinavia, on the other hand, is comparatively rich in literature because paganism had not yet completely died out (Acker & Larrington, 12).

However, this is obviously not to say that Scandinavia’s myths escaped Christian influence. To the contrary, Christianity slowly integrated itself into Scandinavian culture over several centuries. As the Norse were reluctant to give up their pagan beliefs, Christians made their religion easier to accept by allowing the two religions to mix. They encouraged the inclusion of the Christian God and saints into the Norse pantheon and attempted to draw parallels between the two religions’ gods, such as by emphasizing Odin’s role among the Aesir (Finke & Stark, 70). Odin, while officially the head of the Aesir, was by no means the creator of all or the most powerful god, but the Prose Edda nonetheless refers to him as the “All-Father” (Sturluson, 21). Loki, on the other hand, was not the representation of evil incarnate to the Norse, but over time he became increasingly demonized and more similar to the Christian Lucifer (Davidson, 176). Over time, heroes ended up merging with Christianity as well, such as one cross depicting Sigurd slaying Fafnir, who is shown as a serpent—a symbol of the Christian devil—instead of a dragon (Kermode, 601). In due time, Norse holidays’ customs also integrated into Christian holidays, providing us with the present-day Yuletide and Easter (Bolce, 110).

The religions were not always combined, however, as Christians simultaneously attempted to minimize the Norse gods. In later myths, the stories often made the gods laughingstocks, such as by cross-dressing, and many Christians claimed the gods were merely glorified heroes or even evil demons (Berend, 68). Odin’s role as collector of the fallen in battle, for instance, was eventually changed to one who collected the souls of drunkards, robbers, and other unsavory characters (Dasent, 34).

Initially, many Norse did not take to the Christianization kindly and changed the function of the gods themselves in turn, such as adding opposition to the Christian cross as one of Thor’s hammer’s abilities (Derry, 27). However, as more time went on, Christianity gained more acceptance. It was not uncommon to proclaim oneself to be Christian, yet nonetheless pray to Norse gods or practice the usual pagan rituals at the same time (Finke & Stark, 70). Because by the time writing became prevalent, Christianity was already largely dominant, the myths written down were clearly written down with obvious Christian elements. Even Snorri Sturluson, who arguably did the best job recording the myths as he heard them, displayed Christian tendencies in his work, even suggesting in the beginning that the entire religion is related to the Greek story of Troy (Sturluson, 4-5). Lewis Hyde even suggests that Snorri’s recounting of Baldr’s revival is, in fact, a failed version of Christ who “died to make the way for the real thing” (Hyde, 105).

It is safe to say, then, that Christianity’s spread had an interesting and unique effect on Norse mythology. It progressed much more slowly in Scandinavia than in other parts of Europe, which had a two-fold effect: the old myths were around long enough to be written down, but the Norse religion became so slowly entwined with Christianity that although we have sagas and epics, it can be difficult discerning what was originally Norse in origin and what was Christian.

Works Cited


Acker, Paul & Larrington, Carolyne.  “Introduction: Edda 2000.”  Essays on Old Norse Mythology.  2002. Routledge, NY

Bolce, Harold.  “Contemporary Salvation.”  Cosmopolitan Magazine.  Volume 69: June—November 1910.  75-112.

Dasent, George.  Popular Tales from the Norse.  New York, NY: D. Appleton and Company, 1859

Davidson, H.R. Ellis.  Gods and Myths of Northern Europe.  New York: Penguin Books, 1964.

Derry, T.K.  History of Scandinavia: Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, and Iceland.  1979.  Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 1979.

Finke, Robert & Stark, Rodney.  Acts of Faith: Explaining the Human Side of Religion.  Los Angeles, CA: University of California Press, 2000. 

Hyde, Lewis.  Trickster Makes This World: Mischief, Myth, and Art.  New York, NY: New York North Point Press, 1998.

Kermode, P.M.C.  “Manx Crosses.”  The Bookseller.  15 Jan. 1907.  Pg. 601.

Sturluson, Snorri.  Edda.  Trans. Anthony Faulkes.  London: Everyman, 1987.

Comments

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    • profile image

      MythDen 

      6 years ago

      Incredibly well written, a seriously good hub! The ideas you put forth in this article are very interesting and I love the detail with which you describe the attempted quash of Norse mythology due to the spread of Christianity.

    • maridax profile image

      maridax 

      7 years ago from North Central Arkansas,USA

      Very well written Hub. Even for the families that did not convert the myths and stories over the years became blurred for the outer appearance had to be one of Christianity and this led to an eventual lost of the original.

    working

    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, hubpages.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://hubpages.com/privacy-policy#gdpr

    Show Details
    Necessary
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Features
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Marketing
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Statistics
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)