The Norse Sorceress: Mind and Materiality in the Viking World [Hardback]

Leszek Gardeła (Editor); Sophie Bønding (Editor); Peter Pentz (Editor)

ISBN: 9781789259537 | Published by: Oxbow Books | Year of Publication: 2023 | Language: English 528p, H280 x W216 (mm) B/w and colour

The Norse Sorceress


Old Norse literature abounds with descriptions of magic acts that allow ritual specialists of various kinds to manipulate the world around them, see into the future or the distant past, change weather conditions, influence the outcomes of battles, and more. While magic practitioners are known under myriad terms, the most iconic of them is the völva. As the central figure of the famous mythological poem Völuspá (The Prophecy of the Völva), the völva commands both respect and fear. In non-mythological texts similar women are portrayed as crucial albeit somewhat peculiar members of society. Always veiled in mystery, the völur and their kind have captured the academic and popular imagination for centuries.

Bringing together scholars from various disciplinary backgrounds, this volume provides new insights into the reality of magic and its agents in the Viking world, beyond the pages of medieval texts. It explores new trajectories for the study of past mentalities, beliefs, and rituals as well as the tools employed in these practices and the individuals who wielded them. In doing so, the volume engages with several topical issues of Viking Age research, including the complex entanglements of mind and materiality, the cultural attitudes to animals and the natural world, and the cultural constructions of gender and sexuality. By addressing these complex themes, it offers a nuanced image of the völva and related magic workers in their cultural context. It will appeal to a broad, diverse, and international audience, including experts in the field of Viking and Old Norse studies but also various non-professional history enthusiasts.

The Norse Sorceress: Mind and Materiality in the Viking World is a key output of the project Tanken bag Tingene (Thoughts behind Things) conducted at the National Museum of Denmark from 2020 to 2023 and funded by the Krogager Foundation.

Table of Contents

Part 1: Norse myths, rituals, and material culture
An introduction to Old Norse religion(s) and magic
The theoretical and methodological framework: Researching the Viking mind
Gods and other supra-human entities: Communication and manipulation with the Otherworld(s)
The völva’s ritual repertoire between magic and divination
Between the material and immaterial: People, texts, and object-agencies in the Viking mind
Religious objects in the Viking world
Gender in the Viking world
Folklore as a resource on Old Nordic religion and belief: Folkloric perspectives on the völva
Part 2: Places and spaces: Rituals and their setting
Inside, outside and in-between: An overview of the spaces and places of Norse rituals
Rituals in temples and other ‘holy buildings’
Rituals in the hall
Rituals in domestic work and outbuildings
Rituals in the open landscape
Hoard depositions at elite sites
Processions Funerary practices
Off with their heads: Ritualised executions and human sacrifices in the Viking world
Women and sacrifice: Victims, catalysts, agents or orchestrators?
Surely every live man fades among the dead:Fear and desire in the afterlife of Viking Age graves
Part 3: Animals in ritual practices
Animals in Old Norse religion: An introduction
Birds in Late Iron Age and Viking Period pre-Christian religions and iconography
Horses in Viking Age ritual action
Dogs and wolves
The workshops and themes of the Oseberg carvings
Part 4: Ritual specialists
Ritual specialists in the Viking world: An introduction
Gender, prophecies, and magic: Ritual performances in Denmark before the Viking Age
Female sacral leadership: An onomastic-archaeological perspective
The sexual ambiguity of seiðr performers
The archaeology of Viking Age ritual specialists: An introduction
Case study 1: Fyrkat IV
Case study 2: The Birka sorcerers
Case study 3: Klinta
Case study 4: Gutdalen
Case study 5: Gerdrup and Trekroner-Grydehøj
Part 5: The sorcerer’s toolkit
Introducing the sorcerer’s toolkit
Magic staffs
Amulets and talismans
Case study 1: Miniature chairs
Case study 2: Miniature animals
Case study 3: Miniature weapons: Swords, spears, axes, shields, helmets
Case study 4: Wearing a banner: Cloak pins with miniature weather vanes
Case study 5: Miniature wheels
Case study 6: Beads from völva graves and analogous hoards Nordic masking traditions and the völva Narcotics and make-up

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