January 15, 2018: Lightly edited the page on ancestors and added what I think is a really touching bit of information about cemetery placement.
January 14, 2018: A previously unknown Viking settlement has been discovered in Ireland, and there may be an exhibition of some of the finds later this year.
January 6, 2018: Added an article on Outlawry in the Viking Age.
December 19, 2017: I’m very excited to finally be in a position to reveal a project toward which I’ve been quietly doing research for quite some time: Gnosticism Explained. As the name implies, it will in time become a site very much like this one on the topic of Gnosticism, a mystical variety of early Christianity that was declared heretical by the emerging orthodox/Catholic Church. There’s not much material on the site yet, but I’ve finished the first long article, an overview of what scholars today can deduce about The Historical Jesus. That site, and a book I’m writing alongside it, will be my main public project for a while. It should go without saying that I’ll still be working on Norse Mythology for Smart People along the way, of course.
Merry Yule/Festivus/Christmas/etc. to all of you!
December 1, 2017: Added an article on Norse Theology, which discusses the “implicit theology” of the Norse myths – in other words, what the Norse meant when they used the word “god.” This article replaces the now-defunct articles “Polytheistic Theology and Ethics” and “Pantheism,” both of which I’ve been deeply dissatisfied with for a very long time. The new article is more historically accurate, and, I think, more existentially inspiring.
November 23, 2017: Extensively revised the section “What is Norse Mythology?” on the homepage.
November 3, 2017: Added an article on Viking Gender Roles.
October 4, 2017: Added an article on The Viking Social Structure.
September 20, 2017: Added an article on Viking Political Institutions.
September 15, 2017: Despite many people’s wishful thinking, there’s still no solid evidence that there were female Viking warriors, let alone that it was a widespread and accepted practice. That new study being paraded all over the place in the media is so sloppy that it’s basically useless. See Judith Jesch’s expert blog post on the topic and Ars Technica’s lighter overview of many of the same points.
Of course, it’s entirely possible that there were female Viking warriors here and there, but the point is that we still don’t know for sure one way or another.
August 25, 2017: The Kindle version of The Viking Spirit is back up on Amazon!
August 22, 2017: The Kindle version of The Viking Spirit is currently unavailable because Amazon doesn’t like some of the formatting in it. Once I make the changes necessary to appease the powers that be, it will be back up – surely in just a few days. I’ll update this page once it’s available again. I’m sorry for any inconvenience that this may cause to any of you. The paperback version is still up as usual.
August 20, 2017: I’m in the process of converting the whole site from HTTP to HTTPS. If you notice that something isn’t loading or displaying correctly, please send me an email and I’ll fix the problem as soon as possible.
August 14, 2017: Added Who Were the Historical Vikings? This is the intro article to the ongoing series of articles on the Vikings themselves, apart from “just” their mythology and religion.
July 13, 2017: Added The 10 Best Books on the Vikings.
June 16, 2017: Added an article on Daily Life in the Viking Age.
May 11, 2017: Added an article on Viking Trade and Commerce.
April 20, 2017: Added an article on The Vikings as Explorers and Settlers.
April 3, 2017: Added an article on Viking Raids and Warfare, the first article in a new series on the historical Vikings themselves (apart from “just” their religion/mythology). In time, this will become a major new section of the site.
February 15, 2017: Rewrote the article on Valhalla.
February 12, 2017: Rewrote the article on Hel (The Underworld).
February 10, 2017: Rewrote the article on Death and the Afterlife.
February 9, 2017: Updated the article on the goddess/giantess Hel.
January 27, 2017: Updated the article on Loki. Most of the material that’s been added to the article is drawn from my recent book The Viking Spirit: An Introduction to Norse Mythology and Religion, so if you like what you see in this new version of the article, there’s more where that came from.
January 10, 2017: Updated and expanded the article on The Self and Its Parts (formerly “The Parts of the Self”).
January 9, 2017: Updated the article on Gullveig.
January 8, 2017: Rewrote the article on Hugin and Munin.
December 20, 2016: Expanded the article on Norse symbols with a bit about how to distinguish between truly Norse symbols and those that are merely “Norse-flavored.”
December 11, 2016: Updated the article on the tale of The Binding of Fenrir.
December 8, 2016: Rewrote the article on Tyr.
November 1, 2016: Updated the article on the Vegvisir.
October 23, 2016: Added An Introduction to Georges Dumézil, the French scholar who first discovered and articulated the concept of “trifunctionalism” in the societies, religions, and mythologies of the Norse and other Indo-European peoples.
October 17, 2016: It seems that a technical error has been causing this page to load incorrectly. Apologies for that. The error seems to have been fixed.
October 13, 2016: Added an article on Gungnir, Odin’s spear.
October 1, 2016: Added An Introduction to Mircea Eliade, one of the all-time great theorists of religion.
September 23, 2016: Experimenting with different caching systems today. Please let me know if anything isn’t loading or displaying correctly.
September 7, 2016: Added an article on the Gjallarhorn.
August 13, 2016: Added an article on how the Norse viewed dreams.
August 2, 2016: Added The 10 Best Greek Mythology Books.
July 25, 2016: Added an article on kennings.
July 16, 2016: More or less rewrote the article on Bragi, the bard of Valhalla.
July 14, 2016: Edited and expanded the article on Nidavellir/Svartalfheim, the homeland of the dwarves.
July 12, 2016: The Viking Spirit is back up for sale on Amazon.com.
July 11, 2016: I’ve made some slight edits to the source files of The Viking Spirit, so it might be unavailable for a few days while those are being processed. I apologize for any inconvenience this may cause – I’m only doing this to make sure that all future copies are as pristine as possible.
July 6, 2016: Added an article on Folkvang, Freya’s afterlife realm.
June 30, 2016: Added The 10 Best Advanced Norse Mythology Books, a sequel to the beginner-oriented list of The 10 Best Norse Mythology Books. If you’re looking for recommendations on what books to pick up on the topic at either level, those lists are where I’d advise you to head.
June 21, 2016: Added a new article on the einherjar, the spirits of dead elite warriors who live in Valhalla.
And by the way, without naming any names, it seems that the publisher of another introductory book on Norse mythology has changed the book’s cover to be a shameless rip-off of the cover of my new book, The Viking Spirit. It’s a reprint of an old book in the public domain; I guess publishers who have nothing to offer but slavish rehashings of outdated material can’t be bothered to think up their own cover designs, either. So when you go to Amazon to buy The Viking Spirit, make sure you’re getting “the real McCoy” and not a decoy.
June 19, 2016: Updated and expanded the Music section of the Links page.
June 13, 2016: After several requests, here’s an article on the Vegvisir, a popular symbol from an early modern Icelandic grimoire that may or may not date back to the Viking Age.
June 6, 2016: My new book, The Viking Spirit: An Introduction to Norse Mythology and Religion, is now out! It can be acquired as a Kindle ebook or a good, old fashioned print book at Amazon.com. I’m absolutely thrilled to finally be able to share this with you.
Over the course of the day, I’ve made several adjustments to various aspects of the site in light of the book release. The most significant of them have been an update of The 10 Best Norse Mythology Books and a rewrite of the page for my previous book The Love of Destiny.
May 28, 2016: The Kindle ebook version of my forthcoming book, The Viking Spirit: An Introduction to Norse Mythology and Religion, can now be pre-ordered from Amazon.com here! Working on getting this option set up for the physical version as well. Once again, the release date is June 6th.
I’ve also created a page for the new book.
May 25, 2016: Three more bits of information about my forthcoming book, The Viking Spirit: An Introduction to Norse Mythology and Religion:
First, the release date will be June 6, 2016. That’s, like, really soon.
Second, here’s the front cover:
Third, as you can see from that cover image, I’ll be using my full(er) name for this book. Just thought I’d make that clear to avoid any potential confusion.
May 12, 2016: After eight and a half months of work, the main body of the manuscript of my forthcoming book is now finished. Expect it to be published within the next two months. (I’ll make a formal announcement on this page as soon as it’s out, of course.)
This seems like a good time to go ahead and reveal some more details about this book. As I’ve said before, it’s an introduction to Norse mythology and religion written to scholarly standards but in a simple, clear, entertaining style suited for a general audience.
It’s the only book in existence that provides a comprehensive introduction to both the Vikings’ mythology and the wider religion of which it was a part, and which incorporates the groundbreaking scholarly research of the past few decades.
The book consists of 46 chapters, including lively retellings of no less than 34 Norse myths – more than any other book in the field.
It’s titled The Viking Spirit: An Introduction to Norse Mythology and Religion.
While this site strives to provide the ultimate online introduction to Norse mythology and religion, The Viking Spirit strives to provide the ultimate introduction to the field period.
April 2, 2016: It seems that a second Viking settlement in North America may have been discovered. So far, the data sounds tentative but promising.
In other news, the new book is coming together nicely. I’m aiming for a summer publication. More details to follow in the coming months.
March 12, 2016: March 14th (two days from today) is the TV premier of the Major League Baseball documentary for which I was interviewed, Iron Knight: Lou Gehrig. It’s slated to air at 8:00 PM Eastern Time in the US on the Smithsonian Channel. My contributions consist mostly of comparing the story of Lou Gehrig’s life to that of the Norse god Balder. This is a really well-done documentary about a truly remarkable person, and I highly recommend that you watch it if you have the chance. And, as a reminder, you can buy the DVD series if you’re so inclined from Amazon.com.
February 15, 2016: Big news: I’m currently writing a new book in connection with this site. It’s in no way a follow-up to The Love of Destiny, but is a different project altogether, related to that earlier book only by the common topic of Norse mythology and religion. I’ve set a rather lofty goal for this project: to provide the definitive introduction to Norse mythology and religion for the twenty-first century. This new book incorporates the latest research in the field and is written to a high scholarly standard, yet in a style that aims to be accessible and engaging for a general, non-academic audience. It’s somewhat similar to the articles on this site in that regard, but better and more up-to-date in every way.
I’m aiming to finish and publish this book sometime later this year. A summer publication seems probable at this point, but you can’t rush a process like this, so I can’t make any firm guarantees about timing yet.
In the meantime, in the interest of devoting as much attention to this book as possible, I don’t plan to write many, if any, new articles for this site until the book is finished. (It’s not like I’ve exactly been posting new pieces here at a breakneck pace, anyway.)
Details about the book are top secret for now, but I’ll reveal more when the time is right.
This is a really exciting project for me, and I hope that, when you get your hands on the final result, you’ll find it exciting, too.
January 4, 2016: Added a review of Christopher Abram’s Myths of the Pagan North, a book that does a masterful job of tracing the development of the Norse myths during the Viking Age and the medieval period, and discussing what this development means for our understanding of what “Norse mythology” is.
December 16, 2015: Here’s a review of Anders Winroth’s excellent and highly readable general introduction to the Vikings and the Viking Age, The Age of the Vikings.
November 18, 2015: Added an article on Hliðskjálf, the high place from which Odin looks out over the entire cosmos.
October 20, 2015: Awhile back, I was interviewed for a documentary the Major League Baseball Association has been putting together on Lou Gehrig. That project has finally come to fruition and has been released by A&E under the title “Iron Knight: Lou Gehrig” as part of their “Baseball Legends” series, which compares four of the sport’s greatest luminaries to particular figures from mythology.
In “Iron Knight,” I discuss the Norse god Baldr and the connections between Baldr’s story and Gehrig’s. I’m very pleased with the final result, not only because it represents my contributions very well, but, more importantly, because it crafts a truly poignant and inspiring narrative about an extraordinary person who rose to the top of his field, succumbed to a terrible disease at the height of his powers, and accepted his fate with impeccable grace and dignity.
Like any good mythical narrative, the film’s significance is timeless and universal. You don’t have to be a baseball fan to appreciate it. (I don’t particularly follow baseball or any other sport myself.)
“Iron Knight: Lou Gehrig” is set to air on the Smithsonian Channel sometime in 2016. In the meantime, you can purchase it as a DVD on Amazon.com here.
October 11, 2015: Added a review of H.R. Ellis Davidson’s The Road to Hel: A Study of the Conception of the Dead in Old Norse Literature.
September 18, 2015: Doubled the list of The Best Books on Celtic Mythology from five to ten, and edited and updated what was already there. My intent was to turn that list into the Celtic equivalent of The 10 Best Norse Mythology Books.
August 24, 2015: While we’re all eagerly awaiting the release of Neil Price’s new book, Odin’s Whisper: Death and the Vikings (and no, I’m not in the loop on this one, and I have no idea what’s behind the repeated delays), here’s some footage of three lectures Dr. Price presented at Cornell University a few years ago. If the subject matter is any indication, much of the research that’s gone into these presentations will likely feature prominently in Odin’s Whisper. All three include an hour-long talk and a 20-minute Q&A session.
In the first, The Children of Ash: Cosmology and the Viking Universe, Price gives an excellent overview of ancient Norse cosmology that lays some groundwork for the next two lectures. Much of this will probably be familiar to many of you, but some of the intriguing nuances may not be.
(I used to have these videos embedded here, but that seemed to be putting too much strain on the server, so I’ve replaced them with basic YouTube links.)
In the second, Life and Afterlife: Dealing with the Dead in the Viking Age, Price presents a great deal of evidence, both archaeological and literary, for Viking burial practices. This, too, is setting the stage for the next lecture.
The third, The Shape of the Soul: The Viking Mind and the Individual, is where everything really comes together. Here, Price discusses what Viking burial practices can tell us about the Vikings’ worldview, as well as their ramifications for what we think of as “Norse mythology.” And, without giving anything away, it’s quite a lot.
This is some really groundbreaking work, and I hope you can find the time to watch all three of these videos.
August 1, 2015: Added an article on Sigyn, the wife of Loki.
July 12, 2015: Added a review of Carolly Erickson’s The Medieval Vision: Essays in History and Perception.
June 19, 2015: Added a new article on the concept of Óðr.
May 31, 2015: Yesterday I finished re-reading Rudolf Otto’s 1917 classic The Idea of the Holy, which explores the nonrational experience of the numinous (a word Otto coined, or at least introduced into widespread usage) as the heart of religion. Otto describes how the doctrines that comprise the outer, “rational” aspect of religion are second-order, after-the-fact accounts of a common experience of a certain uncanny, majestic presence or feeling that is “wholly other” than anything we experience in day-to-day life. It’s something that we find ourselves irresistibly attracted to, as if it fulfilled our desires in a way and on a level that nothing in the world of ordinary experience can, and yet it’s simultaneously profoundly troubling, even terrifying and gruesome in some cases, because of just how unlike anything in our mundane lives it is. Otto articulates his arguments with extraordinary lucidity and examples from many different religious traditions from all over the world, and along the way provides some of the most fitting and insightful language out there for describing the numinous itself (which can only be hinted at in words, but some words are much better than others, of course).
The Idea of the Holy is probably the single best philosophy of religion book I’ve ever read. It was also a tremendous influence on Mircea Eliade, another one of my favorite philosophers of religion, whose work I cite extensively throughout this site and in The Love of Destiny. If you’re interested in religion and spirituality from an intellectual angle – and if you’ve found this site, chances are you do – I highly recommend The Idea of the Holy.
May 11, 2015: Just a heads up that the series of articles on ancient Egyptian mythology and religion that I wrote for another one of my sites, the now-defunct World-Mythology.org, has now been moved to its own dedicated site: Egyptian Mythology for Smart People. The old pages all redirect to their corresponding new ones, and I’ve made this announcement on both of those sites already, but I figured it wouldn’t hurt to mention it here, too, for those of you who are interested in that part of my work as well.
May 8, 2015: Major site redesign unveiled today, as those of you who are long-term readers have no doubt already noticed. The older design was starting to look rather dated, and it didn’t display correctly on mobile devices. This update should fix both of those issues – and hopefully without creating any new ones in the process. Please email me and let me know if anything isn’t working correctly, and I’ll fix the problem asap. And if you have strong feelings about the new design one way or another, I’d be interested in hearing that, too. Please be specific.
May 8, 2015: Many of you will likely be interested in this: Norway’s ‘We’re Sorry’ Monument to 91 Dead Witches.
April 11, 2015: Finished and published an extensive revision of The 10 Best Books on the Runes. How extensive? Six of the ten books are different. Hopefully this version of the list proves to be more useful and helpful than its previous incarnations.
April 3, 2015: Updated the intro page for the Gods and Creatures section of the site – added links to, and in some cases brief descriptions of, the articles in this section that I’ve written since that page originally went up in late 2012. (Yes, there was quite a bit to add!) I’m not really sure how many people use those intro pages to navigate the site as opposed to just using the navigation menu, but for those who use the intro pages, hopefully this will make it easier to find what you’re looking for.
March 11, 2015: Updated the page on The Old Norse Language and How to Learn It to reflect the fact that the second volume in Jesse L. Byock’s Viking Language series has been released! It’s by far the best resource for learning Old Norse at an intermediate level out there at this point.
March 8, 2015: Added A Response to Common Criticisms of The Love of Destiny.
March 2, 2015: After being out of print and next to impossible to find for a long time, Runes and Magic by Stephen Flowers (aka Edred Thorsson) is now apparently available again, and for quite a reasonable price! If you want to understand what the runes really meant to the pre-Christian Germanic peoples, this is indispensable reading. It was one of the main sources I used for my own articles on the runes. Here’s a link to its page on Amazon.com, and here’s a link to the mini-review I wrote of it in The 10 Best Books on the Runes.
February 8, 2015: Added an article on The Tale of Utgarda-Loki. Despite this story’s popularity, it’s actually a late fairy tale, and has little to nothing to do with myth in any meaningful sense of the word.
January 18, 2015: I’ve just come across a very under-appreciated musical artist whose enchanting, luminous work will likely speak to many readers of this website: Anilah. Here’s her official website, and here’s her Bandcamp page where you can purchase/download her music. Her latest work is a re-recording of her earlier song “Warrior,” which features a collaboration with Einar Selvik (“Kvitrafn”) of Wardruna, with whom many of you are probably familiar. It’s simply overwhelmingly beautiful, and can be streamed here prior to its official release on January 22nd.
January 4, 2015: Added a review of Thomas A. DuBois’s excellent Nordic Religions in the Viking Age, which I’ve used extensively as a source when writing many of the articles on this site.
December 10, 2014: Added an article on the Disir.
November 12, 2014: Recently it’s come to my attention that a number of sites have been re-posting articles from this site, and in many cases the owners of the sites in question have been trying to pass off my work as their own. I realize that this is a common practice on the internet, but it’s one that I’m very much opposed to on principle. As the sole author and copyright holder of every article on this site, I don’t authorize such use of my work. Anything I write is written with the intention of its being displayed where I actively choose to publish it, and there alone.
If you’ve re-posted something of mine, I’m flattered that you’ve found it to be valuable enough to want to do that, but, in the end, you’re only going to acquire my disdain by actually stealing it and posting it elsewhere without my consent. You’re not doing me any kind of service – quite the contrary. Do you really want to run a blog or a website whose operations are dependent upon stealing the work of others, and that garner the scorn of those whose work you apparently admire so much? Besides, your site is never going to go anywhere if you can’t even be bothered to write original content. You’re committing internet suicide by consigning your site to the dustbin of mediocrity and irrelevance. (Google, for example, treats my original work at this site very differently than it does slavish re-postings of it.) If you want to quote or cite my work, by all means, go ahead, but re-posting an entire article is inexcusable.
However, I’ll have much more respect for those who remove my material from their websites immediately and refrain from re-posting anything of mine without my consent in the future. So, if you’re among those who have looted my work, please show that you have some honor and remove my work from your site.
November 9, 2014: Published what is definitely the most significant edit so far to the very popular The 10 Best Norse Mythology Books since it was first published two years ago. There are now actually 13 books on the list, and it’s sure to be more useful than ever for anyone who wants to learn more about Norse mythology and religion, from the total beginner to the advanced scholar.
November 3, 2014: Added an article on the obscure god Odr (Óðr).
October 20, 2014: Added a review of Emma Wilby’s The Visions of Isobel Gowdie: Magic, Witchcraft, and Dark Shamanism in Seventeenth-Century Scotland.
October 14, 2014: Added an article on the gods Vili and Ve, who were probably of much more central importance than the relative sparseness of mentions of them in Old Norse literature might suggest.
October 7, 2014: Added an article on the god Kvasir.
October 5, 2014: As you can see, the unwieldy “blog” page has been replaced with this much simpler and more straightforward one. This site consists of articles, which are static pages, not blog posts, so using blog posts to update readers whenever I write a new article – linking to the article in a two-line post – was a really wonky system that, fortunately, is no more. This site no longer has a “blog” of any kind. In the future, all updates will be listed on this page.