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“Norse Mythology” by Karl Mortensen

The book entitled “Norse Mythology” by Karl Mortensen, is the book I chose to read for my first book report for this semester. The book was translated from the Danish by A. Clinton Crowell. Karl Mortensen was a doctor of philosophy whom attended the University of Copenhagen. The first part of the book is the general introduction. Here, you find the author’s meaning of “Norse mythology” and where he got his information.

He says, By “Norse mythology” we mean the information we have concerning the religious conceptions and usages of our heathen forefathers, their faith and anner of worshipping the gods, and also their legends and songs about the gods and heroes. The importation of Christianity drove out the old heathen faith, but remnants or memories of it long endured in the superstitious ideas of the common people, and can even be traced in our own day. In the general introduction, the author tells us why we teach Norse mythology.

He tells us that for us, Norse mythology has in any case the advantage of being the religion of our own forefathers, and through it we learn to know that religion. This is necessary if we wish to nderstand the history and poetry of our antiquity and to comprehend what good characteristics and what faults Christianity encountered when it was proclaimed in the North. Finally, it is necessary to know the most important points of the heathen faith of our fathers in order to appreciate and enjoy many of the words of our best poets. “Norse Mythology” is comprised of four main sections.

The first section contains the creation myth, which is extremely confusing because it talks about brother’s aunt’s cousin’s children from second marriages and what importance they were in those golden times. It’s quite hard to understand, and I had to read it over twice to make sure I understood. The second part of the first section discusses the creation of the gods and the stories of their lives. And the last part is entitled Ragnorak, which stands for the enemies of the gods. All of this was quite interesting to read. The second section of the book talks about common popular belief.

It says that our forefathers, like other heathen people, found one of the plainest proofs of the soul’s independence of the body and its ability to take a hand in the affairs of living men in the nightmare and dream, s they lacked all other means of explaining those things. They therefore took it for granted that they were spirits, usually in the form of animals or men. Through the smallest crack or crevice the nightmare slips to the sleeping one, and torments and troubles him so sadly that he becomes ill or that it causes his death.

It is felt as an oppressing weight upon the breast or throat; the mare “treads” or “rides” the sleeping one from his legs up to his body and thrusts his tongue into the victim’s throat to hinder him from crying out. The Northern people have clung this very day to their elief in the “mare” as a supernatural female being, and many legends about it have arisen. A “mare” can slip out only by the same way that it came in; if one stops up the opening, it is caught. The same thing happens if one names its name.

In the Ynglinga Saga it is told of King Vanlandi, who had betrayed his Finnish bride, Drifa, that he in punishment for that had been killed by a ‘mare’ with which the magic arts of the Finns had tormented him. He became suddenly sleepy and lay down to rest, but when he had slept a little he cried that a ‘mare’ was treading him. The ing’s men hastened to his assistance, but when they turned to his head, the ‘mare’ trod upon his legs so that they were nearly broken, and if they went to the legs, she was directly occupied at the head; and so the king was actually tortured to death.

Also found in the second section are chief gods and myths of the gods. Here, there are stories told of Thor, Odin, Frey and Njorth, Heimdall and Baldur, and Loki. It comments on the various thresholds crossed by these great gods, and the things that they accomplished. The third section is rather short, but it is solely focused on the forms of worship and eligious life. It tells of the Norse temples, or Hofs, which means in general “a holy place. ” The Hofs were large square, occasionally round, houses, built in the same style and of the same kind of material as the common dwelling houses.

Just inside the door of the Hof stood the posts of the high seat, in which were fixed great nails, but the meaning of these is not known. At the opposite end (the Korrunding or apse) stood the images of the gods, and in front of them or under them the splendidly ornamented Stall, which one of the Icelandic sagas compares with the Christian altar. Upon its iron-covered upper side burned the sacred fire which must never be extinguished, and there also lay the open silver or gold ring upon which all oaths must be sworn.

The ring was moistened in the blood of the victim, and on all festive occasions the Gothi had to wear it upon his arm. Upon the Stall stood also a large copper bowl with a sprinkler (hlautbolli and hlauttein). In the bowl the blood of the victim_animal or man_was caught and sprinkled over those who were present. The Stall also, perhaps the whole interior of the temple, was reddened with it. The statues of the gods were most often clumsy images carved from wood, and were set up on the Stall or upon a pedestal, and dressed in accordance with the festal costume of the period.

That there was always a hammer in the hand of Thor’s image there can be no doubt. The last section of the chosen book is full of hero sagas. You’ll find the stories of The Volsungs, the Helgi sagas, Volun the Smith, The Hjathningar, and Beowulf. These are great stories that beautifully follow the hero cycle. The conclusion of the book talks about how these stories reflect on us. It comments on our strengths nd our weaknesses. It also refers to the people’s beliefs concerning death, courage, respect, and faith.

I absolutely love this book. It’s extremely old_copyright 1913! It really made me look deep into myself. I am of Norwegian origin and it was quite interesting to learn about what my forefathers believed and how they worshipped. My absolute favorite Norse hero has to be Thor. He represents power. He’s extremely powerful and courageous. He also doesn’t have too much compassion for his enemies. He never hesitates to crush them with his almighty hammer. Thor is my hero_let his stories live long!

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