The Viking Way: Magic and Mind in Late Iron Age Scandinavia [Hardback]

Neil Price (Author)

ISBN: 9781842172605 | Published by: Oxbow Books | Year of Publication: 2019 | Language: English 432p, H280 x W216 (mm)

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The Viking Way


Magic, sorcery and witchcraft are among the most common themes of the great medieval Icelandic sagas and poems, the problematic yet vital sources that provide our primary textual evidence for the Viking Age that they claim to describe. Yet despite the consistency of this picture, surprisingly little archaeological or historical research has been done to explore what this may really have meant to the men and women of the time. This book examines the evidence for Old Norse sorcery, looking at its meaning and function, practice and practitioners, and the complicated constructions of gender and sexual identity with which these were underpinned. Combining strong elements of eroticism and aggression, sorcery appears as a fundamental domain of women's power, linking them with the gods, the dead and the future. Their battle spells and combat rituals complement the men's physical acts of fighting, in a supernatural empowerment of the Viking way of life. What emerges is a fundamentally new image of the world in which the Vikings understood themselves to move, in which magic and its implications permeated every aspect of a society permanently geared for war. In this fully-revised and expanded second edition, Neil Price takes us with him on a tour through the sights and sounds of this undiscovered country, meeting its human and otherworldly inhabitants, including the Sámi with whom the Norse partly shared this mental landscape. On the way we explore Viking notions of the mind and soul, the fluidity of the boundaries that they drew between humans and animals, and the immense variety of their spiritual beliefs. We find magic in the Vikings' bedrooms and on their battlefields, and we meet the sorcerers themselves through their remarkable burials and the tools of their trade. Combining archaeology, history and literary scholarship with extensive studies of Germanic and circumpolar religion, this multi-award-winning book shows us the Vikings as we have never seen them before.

Table of Contents

List of figures and tables
Preface and acknowledgements to the first edition
Preface and acknowledgements to the second edition
A note on language
A note on seid
1. Different Vikings? Towards a cognitive archaeology of the later Iron Age
A beginning at Birka
Textual archaeology and the Iron Age
The Other and the Odd?
An archaeology of the Viking mind?
2. Problems and paradigms in the study of Old Norse sorcery
Entering the mythology
Research perspectives on Scandinavian pre-Christian religion
Gods and monsters, worship and superstition
The shape of Old Norse religion
The double world: seiðr and the problem of Old Norse ‘magic’
Seiðr in the sources
Seiðr in research
3. Seiðr
Freyja and the magic of the Vanir
Seiðr and Old Norse cosmology
The performers
The performance
Engendering seiðr
Seiðr and the concept of the soul
The domestic sphere of seiðr
Seiðr contextualised
4. Noaidevuohta
Seiðr and the Sámi
Sámi-Norse relations in the Viking Age
Sámi religion and the Drum-Time
Rydving’s terminology of noaidevuohta
Women and noaidevuohta
The rituals of noaidevuohta
The ethnicity of religious context in Viking-Age Scandinavia
5. Circumpolar religion and the question of Old Norse shamanism
The circumpolar cultures and the invention of shamanism
The shamanic world-view
Shamanism in Scandinavia
Seiðr and circumpolar shamanism
6. The supernatural empowerment of aggression
Seiðr and the world of war
Valkyrjur, skaldmeyjar and hjálmvitr
Supernatural agency in battle
The projection of destruction
Battle magic
Seiðr and the shifting of shape
Berserkir and ulfheðnar
Ecstasy, psychic dislocation and the dynamics of mass violence
Weaving war, grinding battle: Darraðarljóð and Grottas˛ongr in context
7. The Viking way
A reality in stories
Viking women, Viking men
8. Magic and mind
Receptions and reactions
Cracks in the ice of Norse ‘religion’
Walking into the seiðr: contested interpretations of Viking-Age magic
Queering magic?
The social world of war
The Viking mind: a conclusion
Primary sources, including translations
Pre-nineteenth-century sources for the early Sámi and Siberian cultures
Secondary sources
Sources in archive

Reviews & Quotes

"This is a brilliant and beautifully written book, as evidenced, for instance, by Price’s evocative retelling of Ragnarǫkr in Chapter 2. The first edition of Viking Way was a watershed publication for Viking archaeology, and as it has now been updated and extended, this book will only cement its position as a truly fundamental piece of scholarship painting a much richer, more complex, and more disconcerting picture of what are frequently caricatured and romanticized people. The Viking Way will undoubtedly be read, cited, and remembered for a very long time."
Marianne Hem Eriksen
Early Medieval Europe (03/08/2022)

"The Viking Way is a saga-like page-turner. […] It was the most important work to have been published on Norse magic when I first read it in 2002. In this second, revised and expanded edition, Price sets the benchmark for research on the Viking Way for at least another twenty years. "
Jeremy Harte
Time & Mind: the Journal of Archaeology, Consciousness and Culture.

"The Viking Way is a precious and detailed handbook in every respect […] the book is a first-rank culture history of the Vikings."
Vilmos Voigt
Shaman (09/10/2020)

"Price’s easy-to-read writing style allows the study to clearly present and explain an assortment of complicated subject matters, which in turn makes these intricate topics more accessible for a varied audience […] Ultimately, this book remains one of the most influential studies on the Viking Age…"
Jennifer Hemphill
Kyngervi (27/08/2020)

"In summary, readers will be pleased by this new edition in that it largely preserves the much sought-after first edition while simultaneously updating some pieces of information and adding over 500 new references to relevant works published since the first edition, some new photographs and illustrations, and an index."
Tristan Mueller-Vollmer
Journal of English and Germanic Philology (04/12/2020)

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