The Norroena SocietyLore Publications Research Sedian TraditionTHE EDDAS AS A SOURCE OF GERMANIC RELIGION




What the academic scholars really have to say about the difference in authenticity between the Prose Edda, written by Snorri Sturluson in the 1200s, and the Poetic Edda, a collection of old heathen poems Snorri used as a source, surviving in manuscripts from Snorri’s time..


John McKinnell, Both One and Many (1994), p.13: “Any wise commentator on Norse mythology ought to begin by acknowledging frankly that we know rather little about it. Many modern descriptions rely heavily on the Prose Edda of Snorri Sturluson, and especially on the fluent and persuasive account of the gods in Gylfaginning, its first major section. But Snorri was writing in the 1220s, when Iceland had been a Christian country for two centuries, and his Prologus begins with an unambiguous authorial statement of the Christian view of creation.”

Carolyne Larrington, Poetic Edda (1996), p. xiii “Just as Snorri could not help but be influenced by his Christian beliefs in his account …so we cannot now read the Poetic Edda without using Snorri to clarify and explain,” even though she herself acknowledges “the picture given is misleading in its coherence and clarity.”

Roberta Frank with the University of Toronto (1981) observes:.”Ever since the pioneering work of Eugen Mogk in the 1920s and 30s, Old Norse scholarship has been forced to consider the possibility that some of the myths related in the Prose Edda were devised by Snorri himself. The notion that the master of Reykjaholt may have more or less continuously created and elaborated the stories of Old Norse paganism no longer shocks us, but we do not really believe it either.”


According to John McKinnell, Both One and Many, p. 1: .When we look for genuine heathen voices, there are three or perhaps four principle sources:.a) Mythological eddic poemsb) Skaldic versec) Viking Age Picture stones) Contemporary Christian views of Norse heathenism

.On commenting on Tacitus’ claim that the only type of historical tradition among the Germans was “ancient lays” (carmina antiqua), J.B. Rives, translator of Tacitus’ Germania, observes:

.“That the early Germanic people had a rich tradition of oral poetry is suggested by the remains of early English, German, and Norse literature. Although very little of the extant material antedates the eighth century AD, it contains clear indications of earlier origins. First of all these traditions employ the same basic form: a line split into two halves by a strong caesura and linked by alliteration, each half-line normally having two primary stresses and a variable number of weaker stresses. The common tradition suggests that this form was established before there was much cleavage between the Scandinavian and continental Germanic cultures. Moreover, alliterative runic inscriptions date back to the fourth century AD (Lehmann, 1968). Secondly, several texts refer to historical figures of the sixth, fifth, and even fourth centuries AD. Attila for instance, appears in one of the lays of the Poetic Edda, the Atlaqviða, and is also mentioned in the English poems Widsith and Waldere; Widsith is also said to have visited Eormanric, a Gothic king of the fourth century. We can thus trace the tradition of early Germanic poetry, in both form and content, as far back as the fourth century AD, and there is no reason to doubt that it also existed in the time of Tacitus, especially if we compare the strong tradition of oral poetry among other Indo-European speakers.”

“We have to be content with an imperfect and patchy understanding of the old [Norse] religion. But this does not entitle us to assume that the religion itself was correspondingly primitive or incomplete. We must bear in mind that no extensive direct information about the pagan religion was recorded until fully two centuries after the conversion to Christianity, and the generations which had come and gone meanwhile were, or were supposed to be, hostile to these pagan heresies.”—Jónas Kristjánsson, former had of the Arni Mangnusson Institute, Icelandic Manuscripts (1996), p. 27.

“It has always been the problem of the student of primitive Germanic religion to distill the religiously significant out of the mash of documentation—a process often leading to divided opinion. Each of us is almost forced to develop some sort of overall attitude towards the material, based on patterns which seem to repeat themselves in certain texts, and then to subject further material to the results of these observations to see if our key will open the door. If it does, this supports the basic premise— if it does not we must either assume that the theoretic principle with which we are working is false, or that the sample under present investigation is at fault. No key has been discovered to date which opens every door— and external evidence assures us that our materials are not beyond suspicion. So we do not have to apologize for using this method— it remains the standard tool of the trade.”— Jere Fleck, “The ‘Knowledge-Criterion’ in the Grímnismál,” (1971).

So you CANNOT dismiss or throw out the Poetic Edda as a source, and then claim to know Odin is one-eyed, Thor carries a hammer, or argue Loki is a misunderstood “trickster”, because ALL of our knowledge of those things is derived from these poems directly, or indirectly in authors like Saxo Grammaticus and Snorri Sturluson.

By William P Reeves