Thursday, December 29, 2016

Ancient German Norse Religion by Alexander Stuart Murray 1891

Ancient German Norse Religion by Alexander Stuart Murray 1891


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UNLIKE their Aryan kinsfolk—-the Greeks—-the Teutons were not a literary people. Their mythical tales were preserved not in books, but in memory. And Christianity, as represented alike by the missionaries and by Charlemagne himself, did its best to destroy Teutonic paganism root and branch. Hence it happens that of the myths of the gods and heroes of those great nations who, in pre-Christian times, inhabited the territories now included under the general name Germany, no complete and systematic account has been transmitted to modern times.

But the old Germans were of the same race with the people of Norway, Sweden, and Denmark. Their speech was essentially the same. They had the same social and domestic customs, and the same religion. Further, during the time when Christianity was spreading over Germany and Scandinavia, that exodus of the Norsemen was likewise taking place which ended in the colonization of Iceland—-or Snowland, as it was also named by its discoverers in the middle of the ninth century. There, "on the verge," as Dr. Dasent says, "of the polar circle," the Vikings established their little independent principalities or republics; unmeddled with by Christian priests, and disdaining the continental kings who were aping the customs of the new times, the Icelandic Norsemen preserved, for five centuries more, the pure faith of their forefathers.

Lastly there appears to have been less antagonism, less friction, between the two rival religions—-Odinism and Christianity—-in Iceland than in other countries. Its Christian priests would seem to have felt the loyalty of children towards their old faith, then dying away. Hence, in a measure, the complete and systematic form in which the Icelanders were able to leave a permanent record of their mythology. It was a Christian priest—-Sigmund Sigfusson-—who, in the middle of the eleventh century, composed the compilation of mythical poems known as the elder Edda. To the succeeding century belongs the younger Edda, which is merely a prose rendering of those portions of the first work which narrate the creation of the world and man, and the generation, adventures, functions, and ultimate fate of the gods. As a cosmogony and theogony this Edda, or, as the word might be paraphrased, "Tales of a Grandmother," is as complete even as its Greek prototype, the Theogony of Hesiod. And as a record and expression of the spiritual life of those Teutons, who also were the progenitors of our English race, it is, or surely ought to be, incomparably more interesting.

From James Freeman Clarke

The ancient Germans, like their modern descendants, drank beer and Rhenish wine, and were divided into numerous tribes, who afterward reappeared for the destruction of the Roman Empire, as the Goths, Vandals, Lombards, and Franks.

The Scandinavians were a branch of the great German family. Their language, the old Norse, was distinguished from the Alemannic, or High German tongue, and from the Saxonic, or Low German tongue. From the Norse have been derived the languages of Iceland, of the Ferroe Isles, of Norway, Sweden, and Denmark. From the Germanic branch have come German, Dutch, Anglo-Saxon, Maeso-Gothic, and English. It was in Scandinavia that the Teutonic race developed its special civilization and religion. Cut off from the rest of the world by stormy seas, the people could there unfold their ideas, and become themselves. It is therefore to Scandinavia that we must go to study the German religion, and to find the influence exercised on modern civilization and the present character of Europe. This influence has been freely acknowledged by great historians.

Montesquieu says:

“The great prerogative of Scandinavia is, that it afforded the great resource to the liberty of Europe, that is, to almost all of liberty there is among men. The Goth Jornandes calls the North of Europe the forge of mankind. I would rather call it the forge of those instruments which broke the fetters manufactured in the South.”

Geijer, in his Swedish History, tells us:–

“The recollections which Scandinavia has to add to those of the Germanic race are yet the most antique in character and comparatively the most original. They offer the completest remaining example of a social state existing previously to the reception of influences from Rome, and in duration stretching onward so as to come within the sphere of historical light.”

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