A Review of H. R. Ellis Davidsonís Gods and Myths of Northern Europe
-Michael J Dangler
Davidson, Hilda R. Gods and Myths of Northern Europe. Penguin Group, New York, NY. 1990
Where can I start with this book? Ms. Davidsonís presentation of the Norse Gods and myths is amazing. I rarely found fault with the book, and would recommend this book to nearly anyone.
Davidson begins her work talking about the people to whom these myths belonged, which is really the only logical place to start. After a well researched and thorough discussion of the people and their influences, delving into their past and the changes that seemed to have occurred in their religion, Davidson goes on to explore the myths themselves. She gives brief synopses of many of the myths of the Prose and Poetic Eddas, the primary source of the Northern myths.
These synopses helped me to better understand the myths, as they included summaries of what several myths said about different important features of Norse cosmology. There is an extensive description of the Yggdrasil, the World Tree, that obviously does not come from a single myth. The rewording and simplicity of the myths is invaluable to a beginner trying to understand them.
After this, several of the Gods are examined in depth, from Odin to Thor to Freyr. This examination shows us where these Gods came from in the minds of the people, as well as giving us a solid historical basis for the ďcreationĒ of the Gods by the Norse people. Odin is shown to be a conglomerate of both Wodin and Tyr. Far from using this information to debase the Norse myths, pointing out that theyíre just derived from others or similar arguments, Davidson shows us that the people were not just simpleminded folk who created their Gods from nothing, but intelligent, cultured people who loved their Gods very much.
Davidsonís information comes from both literary and archeological sources, giving the reader a good idea of how the people actually lived and worked with these myths. Another important point is that she compares Celtic myth with Nordic myth, something that Celtic scholars (such as Ellis or Mathews) are extremely hesitant to do. (p. 132) I donít know if this has to do with some superiority that Celtic scholars feel for their cultures, or if they just donít see the connection, but it worries me sometimes.
All this aside, I feel that this is an excellent book for either beginners in the Nordic tradition, whether practicing or studying it, or for people who have been studying the traditions for extended periods of time. It seems to me that Davidsonís book is one of the finest secondary sources for Norse mythology out there, and is good, uncomplicated fare for any reader.
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