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Gods and Myths of Northern Europe

4.09  ·  Rating details ·  1,886 ratings  ·  65 reviews

Tiw, Woden, Thunor, Frig. these ancient northern deities gave their names to the very days of our week. Nevertheless, most of us know far more of Mars, Mercury, Jupiter, Venus, and the classical deities. Recent researches in archaeology and mythology have added to what was already a fairly consistent picture (largely derived from a twelfth-century Icelandic account) of the

Paperback, Reprint, 251 pages
Published 1990 by Penguin (first published 1964)
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 ·  1,886 ratings  ·  65 reviews

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Jul 21, 2008 rated it liked it
This provides an okay overview of Norse mythology. It jumps around a bit, though this is more a product of the author trying to pull together fragmented sources. Not a completely satisfying read, but not a bad first look at the names/habits/symbols in the Norse myths. Also, there is a pretty gruesome description of the Valkyries weaving with intestines, which is always a good time.
Billy Roper
Jun 01, 2016 rated it really liked it
I originally read this book as one of the required reading texts for a "Germanic Folklore" seminar class as a grad student, twenty years ago. Especially for neophytes, it provides an excellent overview of the mythologies of northern Europe, from the Anglo-Saxon versions to that of their more familiar Norse cousins.
Paul Haspel
Jan 29, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: norse-myth
The gods of Asgard, and their mythic stories of battles with frost-giants and monsters, hold a strong place in the popular imagination throughout the West, and particularly in Scandinavia; but those stories did not come out of a vacuum. Rather, they were part of a powerful and long-lasting pre-Christian religious tradition that extended beyond Scandinavia to Germany, England, and Ireland, as H.R. Ellis Davidson points out in Gods and Myths of Northern Europe.

Ellis Davidson, who taught at the uni
Jul 05, 2010 rated it really liked it
Another academic work on the Norse gods (not a storybook retelling at all), this concentrates more on the Northern people than Dumézil's work, surveying the practical meaning and historical base for many of the stories and concepts. Intriguing passages included the similarities between Freyja and Frigg; the relation between the powers of the volva or Odin's acquisition of knowledge and shamanism; and the reasons for Christianity's power over the heathens of the late period. A great archeological ...more
Apr 14, 2009 rated it it was amazing
This is mainly a survey of what we know about the Norse/German/Old English gods and goddesses. (Not much.) Davidson looks at the archaeological remains as well as the old sagas and Eddas, concentrating mainly on Snorri's "Prose Edda" to see what has survived about Scandinavian mythology. What emerges is fascinating, and ultimately frustratingly sad. Fascinating because it's a glimpse at a mythology that isn't well known thanks to the Renaissance's obsession for Greco-Roman mythology and frustrat ...more
Mandy Dejonghe
Jul 30, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This book was excellent insight into the world of Norse Mythology which I find extremely interesting. It talked about the myths and then went on to explain how they related to the people who wrote them. Then, later she talked about how both Christianity influenced Norse mythology and how the Norse religion influenced Christianity. It makes me want to dive deeper into the realm of pre-Christian religions, specifically in Northern Europe. Would recommend to anyone with an interest in mythology or ...more
Xenophon Hendrix
Apr 23, 2018 rated it liked it
It took me a while to get through this book, because it kept inspiring me to stop and look things up for more information. That's not a bad thing.

This shouldn't be your first book on the Norse myths; the author assumes some prior knowledge. She does give moderate review, but it's rather offhand. Read something like The Norse Myths by Kevin Crossley-Holland first.
Jul 17, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
this book feels it's age. well researched for a 1960's publication, but so, so, so academic I almost quit.
Jul 28, 2017 rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
May 09, 2011 rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction
This book is a very brief very broad overview over several themes found in the Northern myths. If you've read the myths then there is no point reading this book, unless you have had some trouble with them. This book might help clarify a few things or help come up with some essay topics. There are a few comparative pieces between Snorri's work and Saxo's which I found quite interesting. If you're just an interested reader, this book doesn't have much value. If you're a researcher or scholar this ...more
Jul 14, 2013 rated it liked it
As others have mentioned this book bounces around a lot covering the subject and is an academic treatment of Northern European myths, gods and their cults rather than a narrative re-telling of the myths (compare with Robert Graves' Greek Mythology which is more the latter). You do get the gist of the main themes though along with the common strands across the different regions.

What I did find interesting was how close Marvel comics and the recent films have stayed to many of the core elements of
I had to skim through most of the book, but it's interesting and easy to follow. It's not a mythology book only, but it also presents the life of various groups of people, their culture and belief system. Not the info I need for my thesis, hence the skimming. I think it's also somewhat outdated by now. Nevertheless, it's a good start for mythology enthusiasts.
Sep 16, 2011 rated it really liked it
Remarkably thorough overview of the gods of Norse mythology from the Eddas and other related texts. A bit biased when it comes to Norse paganism's (which he insists on calling "heathenism") disappearance, implying it's because Christianity is inherently better and truer than paganism.
Ashley Lindsay
Dec 19, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Fabulous dive into the mythology and religions of the North. I found the path these beliefs took from the Near East to my ancestors fascinating. Davidson does a good, if frustrating, job of staying on topic. I plan on reading more of her to get the full picture.
May 16, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: adf
Interesting, but not especially filled with new information. I'd seen a number of the contentions proposed in this book elsewhere. I'm not sure if that is because this book tends to be cited a lot, of if this book just tended to cite works that were also cited by others, but either way, it ends up being a good reminder of some ideas and proposals, but nothing especially ground-breaking. There were some interesting discussions, but I think the book does suffer from attempting to carve out realms ...more
Joshua Gregg
Jan 30, 2019 rated it really liked it
Good foundational understanding for people wanting to learn more about the people, culture, and beliefs found in Northern Europe. Comparisons between beliefs found among the Norse, Celts, or Germanic tribes are often given since they generally contained similar beliefs and can help inform other viewpoints. If you're looking for an in depth explanation or re-telling of the stories of Norse mythology this book will leave you wanting. The author provides brief explanations of those stories, but sup ...more
Mar 12, 2019 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I was a bit disappointed in this. I was expecting tales of the old mythology but what I got was someone telling me about them without actually telling all of the tale. It was interesting learning how far the Scandinavian myths traveled but I am not so sure they all can be as linked to Christianity as is put forward. This reads more like a doctoral dissertation than something for the common reader. Some sections are even just repeated but reworded. It is a long drawn out overview in my opinion. N ...more
Teri Uktena
Dec 23, 2019 rated it liked it
This book is definitely of it's time. While it is really good at discussing what information we have, how we got it, how it's very incomplete and muddy due to it coming mostly from non-native authors and those outside the religion, it's biases make the overview a bit difficult to get through. The use of the term heathen is not only a bit jarring, but gets monotonous the further you go along. And the ubiquitous assumption that female deities having any sexuality or having to do with birth foster ...more
Sean Anderson
Jul 04, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This is a very engaging read! The author manages to juggle the effort of covering the subject of the gods and religions of this time and region with great detail while remaining entertaining. If you're at all interested in Norse and Germanic mythology, religion and history, this is a must read! It's a very thoughtful intriguing study and it's got me going to a lot of the source texts it references.
Gemma Williams
May 07, 2020 rated it really liked it
A very good academic discussion of the myths of Northern Europe. It is a scholarly discussion of sources, rather than a straightforward narration of the stories, but very readable for that type of book. It was written in the 1960s and so some of the language is a little dated...and the age shows a little in the conclusion. I imagine nowadays there wouldn't be a view of Christianity as an inevitable successor in the same way. But taken in its own time and context, a very good book.
Jul 01, 2018 rated it really liked it
This book lived to my expectations and more. It is well-written and the information was well-ordered. Well, I did skip thumb through few pages, but the things I sought this book for were quite satisfying and they answered basic questions I had about Norse Mythology, like the origin of Gods, their traits, and the abiding wrangle between Christianity and Heathenism, like Thor and Jesus Christ.
Jul 21, 2019 rated it it was ok
The author's writing style is slow and repetitive. It feels as if she is trying to bulk out the book. The formation of the information is in a very confused style, central ideas of paragraphs are not clear and the topic changes regularly.

A very difficult read. I'd recommend reading a more moden book on Northern European gods.
Derek Jasnoch
Jan 03, 2020 rated it really liked it
An excellent introduction to Norse and Other Northern European mythology. Describes each of the major characters in the myths along with some of the stories of their exploits. I liked how the author interlinked the various gods and goddess’s of the regions explaining who was who to each of the tribes and so forth.
Jul 22, 2020 rated it really liked it
This is from the 60's so a lot of the info is outdated but I still really enjoyed it. Even if I knew a theory presented was no longer a valid one it still gave me something to think about. The writing is also clear and fairly easy overall.
Diego Garza
Apr 05, 2019 rated it really liked it
This is a very good book to start in the studies of old norse mythology, teachers could use it to introduce students new to these subjects; bibliography may point you to more reading later.
Skorum Music
Sep 20, 2020 rated it it was amazing
An excellent look at the Norse and Vikings myths from an anthropological perspective
May 12, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
   When I picked up this book, I was expecting it to contain more of the myths of the north themselves, and not primarily summaries of the compiled myths. Ellis Davidson makes frequent reference to the Icelandic scholar, Snorri Sturluson, who wrote the Prose Edda. The Prose Edda compiles many of the myths Snorri was able to gather from the northern Europe in his time, around the 1220s A.D./C.E. Ellis Davidson’s book is therefore a great resource for succinctness, arrangement of information thema ...more
We can see the myths as a vigorous, heroic comment on life, life as men found it in hard and inhospitable lands. The gods never cease their struggle against the creatures of cold and darkness. Thor, perhaps the best-loved deity of the north, is characteristic of the Vikings in his resolute pertinacity. The values for which he stood—law and order in the free community, the keeping of faith between men—were those by which the Vikings set great store, even though they themselves often appeared to t
Steven M Long
Nov 09, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: syllabus
The easiest way to talk about Gods and Myths of Northern Europe by H. R. Ellis Davidson is to talk about it in relation to Norse Mythology: A Guide to the Gods, Heroes, Rituals and Beliefs by John Lindow. Both books cover much of the same ground and serve as solid guides to Norse mythology, but while Lindow’s book is organized more like an encyclopedia, with entries for everything from gods and goddesses to giants, objects, and events, Davidson’s book addresses Norse mythology through chapters ( ...more
A very interesting and scholarly look at the myths and deities of northern Europe - both the continental, Anglo-Saxons and Norse (aka Vikings). The author describes the various gods and goddesses, and attempts to trace their origin. She then attempts to related the cults of these mythological characters to the daily lives of the people, and provides some ideas on why these heathen beliefs gave way to the Christian faith. This is an introductory text with many nuggets of interesting ideas and con ...more
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a.k.a. H.R. Ellis Davidson

Hilda Roderick Ellis Davidson was an English antiquarian and academic, writing in particular on Germanic paganism and Celtic paganism.

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“In spite of this awareness of fate, or perhaps because of it, the picture of man's qualities which emerges from the myths is a noble one. The gods are heroic figures, men writ large, who led dangerous, individualistic lives, yet at the same time were part of a closely-knit small group, with a firm sense of values and certain intense loyalties. They would give up their lives rather than surrender these values, but they would fight on as long as they could, since life was well worth while. Men knew that the gods whom they served could not give them freedom from danger and calamity, and they did not demand that they should. We find in the myths no sense of bitterness at the harshness and unfairness of life, but rather a spirit of heroic resignation: humanity is born to trouble, but courage, adventure, and the wonders of life are matters of thankfulness, to be enjoyed while life is still granted to us. The great gifts of the gods were readiness to face the world as it was, the luck that sustains men in tight places, and the opportunity to win that glory which alone can outlive death.” 5 likes
“The exuberant exaggerations of the Irish sagas are not for the northern gods; Freyja, Thor, Loki have the robust common sense which the Vikings themselves admired hugely,” 1 likes
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