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Snorri Sturluson as a historian of religions: The credibility of the descriptions of pre-Christian cultic leadership and rituals in Hákonar saga góða
Stockholm University, Faculty of Humanities, Department of Ethnology, History of Religions and Gender Studies. Högskolan i Gävle, Sverige.
2013 (English)In: Snorri Sturlusson - Historiker, Dichter, Politiker / [ed] Heinrich Beck, Wilhelm Heizmann, Jan Alexander van Nahl, Berlin-New York: Walter de Gruyter, 2013, 71-92 p.Chapter in book (Refereed)
Abstract [en]

This study investigates the credibility of the descriptions of pre-Christian cultic leadership and rituals in Snorri Sturluson’s Hakonar saga goda. The perspective is one taken from the study of the history of religions. By using a comparative method, one which combines source criticism and philology, ancient ideas may be detected even within Snorri’s reconstruction. Scholars have interpreted these ideas by setting them in a wider source context. Here it is argued that several ideas in Snorri’s description in Hakonar saga goda may be attested in sources which are closer to the Viking Age, such as Skaldic poetry, runic inscriptions and archaeological finds. For instance, the idea that political leaders such as kings and earls were involved in public cults may be one based on ancient traditions. Snorri, too, was probably on firm ground when he stated that the rulers (at least the king) were supposed to take part in certain rituals while attending sacrificial feasts: rituals such as drinking ceremonies and meal customs perhaps such as the eating of horseflesh. That these ceremonies sometimes took place in some kind of cultic building or banqueting hall, such as described by Snorri, seems also likely. It is emphasized, however, that some elements in his text must be seen as suspect, as Olaf Olsen, Ernst Walter and Klaus Duwel have noted. These elements include certain religious terms, as well as the act of making the sign of the hammer over the horn. Generally, however, it is argued that Hakonar saga goda, if treated with care, may still be used as a source for pre-Christian religion.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Berlin-New York: Walter de Gruyter, 2013. 71-92 p.
, Reallexikon der Germanischen Altertumskunde, 85
National Category
History of Religions
Research subject
History of Religion
URN: urn:nbn:se:su:diva-107505ISBN: 978-3-11-033632-0OAI: diva2:747650
Available from: 2014-09-17 Created: 2014-09-17 Last updated: 2014-09-18Bibliographically approved

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Sundqvist, Olof
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