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Myths and Symbols in Pagan Europe: Early Scandinavian and Celtic Religions Paperback – December 1, 1989

4.3 out of 5 stars 26 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From the Back Cover

In this book, questions are posed such as: do such parallels go back to early times or are they owing to late Viking contact? This issue gives us knowledge of the early peoples in Europe.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 268 pages
  • Publisher: Syracuse University Press; First Edition edition (December 1, 1989)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0815624417
  • ISBN-13: 978-0815624417
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.8 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (26 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #440,490 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
This is an objective analysis of pagan beliefs and practices, mostly in Viking and Celtic times. Davidson gives well -documented explanations of such things as holy places, feasting and sacrifice, rites of battle, land-spirits and ancestors, foreknowledge and destiny. As a historical fiction writer, writing about Viking times, this book is a valuable resource for me. I especially appreciate the careful referencing, and inclusion of evidence from archaeology as well as literature and folklore. I would recommend this book to anyone interested in Viking and Celtic religion from a more historical rather than a "cultist" perspective.
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Format: Paperback
A useful introduction to the structure, key concepts, and beliefs of ancient Scandinavian and Celtic religions. Davidson covers a number of topics, including holy places, feasting and sacrifice, battle rites, land spirits and ancestors, divination, the Otherworld, and what she calls "the ruling powers." Her text is an overview and an introduction: not very deep, but a good place to begin one's study. Because she discusses both Germanic and Celtic religions, there is too much ground to cover to do so in depth. Sometimes the religions feel confused or one of the other is ignored in order to move on to the text subject. Nonetheless, the text is scholarly, well-footnoted and clearly based in research; for the most part her analysis manages to identify key themes and symbols in an analytic, readable fashion. I believe that her attempt to categorize the gods at the very end of the book fails, but with that one exception the book is on the whole a useful, intelligent introduction to these ancient religions, and the writing style is approachable while still scholarly.

The student of either Scandinavian or Celtic religion may find this text unusual: rather than focusing on one of these religions, it discusses both concurrently. Germanic and Celtic religions appear to have a shared origin and a number of similarities, and so the analysis of both together should be interesting and provide a wider background for students of either religion. However, the broader subject matter makes for more cursory analysis and less detail: some subjects are only mentioned briefly; some subjects are discussed only in terms of one of the two religions.
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Format: Paperback
H.R. Ellis Davidson has done a fabulous job in this book, where she illustrates a number of critial simularities and differences between what we currently understand of pre-Christian Celtic religion and pre-Christian Scandinavian religion.
I was constantly surprised and challenged as I worked my way through this book and experienced a number of my preconcieved notions of both Celtic mythology and Norse mythology being deconstructed and reassembled.
And, I felt, for a book mostly intended for a University Library, that it was a pleasant and entertaining read.
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I found this book quite interesting but it should have been longer and given more details about myths and symbols. I was brought up being required to read old Icelandic literature at school and I found it astounding that this scholar didn't treat Iceland essentially as a Norwegian sub-colony. Refreshing. Also, if you are interested in old religions and don't want to float in the sea of new age and fancyful imagination this book is a "not romanticizing, not cynical" introduction into scandinavian and celtic symbolism. I don't have the diploma to comment on its accuracy.
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Format: Paperback
This book is mainly concerned with the format and content of pre-Christian Scandinavian religion, using Celtic and Germanic equivalents as a means of reference, support and comparison. I first became aware of Scandinavian culture during my schooldays in North-East British Northumberland, and the lessons were mainly concerned with depicting the savagery of the Viking raiders, the terrible `dragon-headed' long-ships, and their rape, pillage and plunder of civilized Anglo-Saxon Christian settlements. This image of barbaric ice-warriors filled my imagination until the mid-eighties when excavations and archeological discoveries at Coppergate in York revealed many interesting and highly cultured facets of Viking life in the early medieval period. Much of these discoveries and subsequent research was installed as a permanent museum now called `Jorvik Viking Centre.' A decade later I was fortunate enough to visit Bergen in Norway and experience Scandinavian culture and history first hand, the Bryggens Museum is a showcase of finds from the earliest settlements and includes ceramics, rune inscriptions, artifacts and the remnants of a principally shipping and commercial society up to the Middle Ages. `Myths and Symbols in Pagan Europe' provided me with a carefully researched and detailed account of the spirituality of the Scandinavian peoples, and which brought to maturity all my previous thoughts and experiences, to an understanding which gives considerable credit to those communities for their important cultural legacy in Western Europe.

Davidson has used the medieval literature, myths and legends of Iceland and Ireland as the primary reference source for this book, in combination with archeological research papers and sources, and iconography of pre-Christian Western European culture.
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