1st Edition

Ancestor Worship and the Elite in Late Iron Age Scandinavia A Grave Matter

By Triin Laidoner Copyright 2020
    196 Pages
    by Routledge

    194 Pages
    by Routledge

    Ancestor worship is often assumed by contemporary European audiences to be an outdated and primitive tradition with little relevance to our societies, past and present. This book questions that assumption and seeks to determine whether ancestor ideology was an integral part of religion in Viking Age and early medieval Scandinavia. The concept is examined from a broad socio-anthropological perspective, which is used to structure a set of case studies which analyse the cults of specific individuals in Old Norse literature. The situation of gods in Old Norse religion has been almost exclusively addressed in isolation from these socio-anthropological perspectives. The public gravemound cults of deceased rulers are discussed conventionally as cases of sacral kingship, and, more recently, religious ruler ideology; both are seen as having divine associations in Old Norse scholarship. Building on the anthropological framework, this study introduces the concept of ‘superior ancestors’, employed in social anthropology to denote a form of political ancestor worship used to regulate social structure deliberately. It suggests that Old Norse ruler ideology was based on conventional and widely recognised religious practices revolving around kinship and ancestors and that the gods were perceived as human ancestors belonging to elite families.


    Part 1. Theoretical Considerations

    1. Old Norse Religion – Approach, Sources and Method

    1. 1. Old Norse Religion

    1. 1. 1. What is ‘Religion’?

    1. 1. 2. What is ‘Old Norse’?

    1. 1. 3. The Non-Static and Heterogenous Nature of Old Norse Religion

    1. 1. 4. Hetergenous Conceptions of the Afterlife in Old Norse Religion

    1. 1. 5. Gravemounds and Ancestors in Old Norse Religion

    1. 1. 6. Folk vs. World Religion

    1. 1. 7. Paganism and Christianity

    1. 2. Primary Sources

    1. 3. Method

    2. Research on Ancestor Worship

    2. 1. The Development of ‘Ancestor Worship’ as an Academic Term

    2. 2. Ancestor Worship in Old Norse Research

    3. Ancestors in Social Anthropology: Definition and Social Use

    3. 1. ‘Ancestor Worship’ – the Problem with Terminology

    3. 2. The Role of Ancestors in Folk Religions

    3. 3. Family, Kinship and ‘Superior Ancestors’

    3. 4. ‘Superior Ancestor Worship’

    4. Kings and Gods in Old Norse Religion

    4. 1. The Myth of ‘Sacral Kingship’

    4. 2. Euhemerism – Medieval Propaganda or Just History?

    Part 2. The Case Studies

    5. Introduction to the Case Studies

    6. Erik of Birka

    7. The Ynglingar

    7. 1. Background on the Ynglingar

    7. 1. 1. Sources

    7. 1. 2. The Ynglingar and Sacral Kingship

    7. 1. 3. Ynglingatal: Authorial Purpose

    7. 2. Freyr

    7. 2. 1. Adam’s Templum

    7. 2. 2. Adam’s Account of Human Sacrifice

    7. 2. 3. Icons and Processions

    7. 3. Hálfdanr svarti

    7. 4. Óláfr Geirstaðaálfr

    8. The Háleygjar

    8. 1. The Háleygjar and Sacral Kingship

    8. 2. Þorgerðr helgabrúðr

    9. The Settlers of Breiðafjerðr

    9. 1. Þórólfr Mostrarskegg

    9. 2. Auðr djúp(a)úðga

    General Conclusion


    Triin Laidoner received an MA in Old Nordic Religion from the University of Iceland and a PhD in History from the University of Aberdeen, UK. Prior to that, she studied Icelandic and Swedish philology, and literary translation. Her work focuses on pre-Christian religious beliefs and practices in northern Europe, Old Norse-Icelandic literature, mythology and folklore, social anthropology, kinship and social structures, and ancestor beliefs and rituals. She has published on connections between Sámi and Old Norse beliefs.