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Nordisk Aandsliv i Vikingetid og Tidlig Middelalder
by Axel Olrik

Review by Hringari Óðinssen

      Overall on the first read I found it impressive that he could so well outline the structure of society in Scandinavia and Iceland.
      Olrik has a tendency to place the Voluspa as the greatest of the Eddic lays, and makes no bones about the fact that it is because he sees it imbued with some type of krisjan ethic and influence. Although he states, "The poem is an independent effort of a thoughtful man to arrive at an understanding of the innermost laws of existence......not engaged in an attempt to defend the doctrine of the Aesir, nor to clothe the christian truths in pagan garb," he goes on to explain how it approximates the christian cycle of ideas, citing such things as the Ida-fields/Eden, Baldr's death/martyrdom, etc. I say if it weren't for christianity the idea of martyrdom in this specific context would have never come up, seeing the death of that god was purely a deliberate attempt at creating discord and incohesiveness amongst the Æsir by Lord Loki. One could also look upon it as a sign of the beginning of entropy of the yugas, as in all old religions some type of heavy strife would come upon the family of gods to begin a cycle of striving that would in the end teach humankind a number of invaluable lessons. In the Vedic religion we have Narada committing exactly the same provoking, discordant interference as Loki - moving between the families of gods and other opposing parties to stir up either warfare or action between and amongst them.
      Olrik also sees the Voluspa as discarding the 'crude animistic polytheism' of the ancients and its replacement with calling nature as it is, in a krisjan sense, namely an acceptance of nature and the forces in it as a creative and guiding power concealed 'behind the scenes'. This is perhaps because the use of kennings, as well as the naming of the forces themselves, is more concealed - a fact that could come either from the scribe's lack of knowledge of the original, his own christian upbringing, or the original poet's supposition that those who heard the lay already knew the underlying facts.
      He also attributes ethical idealism in the heroic lays to krisjan influence while at the same time admitting that there was really no telling difference between the ethics of either religion except in the attribution to the christ's laws. He also assumes a great deal in saying the concept of 'soul' was brought to the heathens through krisjan missionaries, asserting that up until that point we had no idea of an afterlife or transmigration (none, I suppose, that made any sense to him).
      His history of Saxo's career is telling, a scribe who'd achieved his masters degree through his studies in Paris, who had spent time in Valdmar's ranks, and who then spent an entire generation of time trying to achieve the assignment Absalon had placed on him, to make the complete geneology of Denmark and its surrounding environs one that could be attributed to the 'gods', 'fighting with his mind and pen', in that sense turning over the whole of their history to christian conception.
      I must say that the greatest statement I have ever found by an historical author regarding our religion is also in this work, wherein Olrik manages to thresh out a bit of the true virtues of our faith, at least of those devoted to Lord Oðin. He says, "...we must not lose sight of the valuable phase of the Oðin worship....we have an idea of spiritual force....the Oðin cult consolidates the consciousness of the fact that the powers of the soul are the highest powers and that to express them in action is most pleasing to the gods....this....leads us to grasp divinity in its highest form as intelligence and volition, it recognizes consecration, compact, the obligation of the individual to carry out everywhere in his life the demands of divinity....for the entire mode of thought required the existence of a personal relation of confidence and responsibility to the divine as well as to individual men."
      If this attitude of reliance on our gods, and service with, for, and amongst them, were ever again to flower, the dreadfully one-sided idol-worship of the Oðinists, and the near-anarchism of the neo-paganites would resolve itself into a community that could be recognized as a whole, by the current religions of the world, and also by the gods. If They have attempted to teach us anything it is that self-reliance implies first and foremost foreknowledge, or at least some form of innate knowledge, of the ethics that lead us to evolve, be that knowledge given through Them directly, or in what is derived from an understanding of Their actions and interactions with each other and with mankind.
      Olrik's greatest contribution through this work is his ability to be thought-inspiring.

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