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Gods and Myths of Northern Europe

4.08  ·  Rating details ·  1,751 ratings  ·  59 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 Books (first published 1964)
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4.08  · 
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 ·  1,751 ratings  ·  59 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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
usedbooks thrifter
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.
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.
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
This book focuses on the cultural context of what we know about the Old Norse myths, mainly, it stresses the point that the vast majority of what we know comes from Snorri Sturluson's Eddas which were written in the early 13th century, quite some time after the old northern religions have faded. Nevertheless, the author makes well grounded parallels between the Norse gods and those from the old Germanic faiths, and, to a lesser extent, with the those from the Celtic faiths.

I lack the scholarly t
Sep 03, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: own, mythology
After reading "Myths of the Norsemen" by Helene Guerber, I was severely disappointed in the book. Ever since then, I've been trying to find a good book on Norse mythology. "Gods and Myths of Northern Europe" summarized some myths and gives an overview of some of the Gods and Goddesses.

The book illustrates how Christianity has affected what remains of Norse/Germanic Myths and even goes so far to show how Christian beliefs have colored such myths (which isn't surprising considering the more known
Sharon Reamer
Apr 01, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone who likes mythology
This is one of the most accessible volumes I've found on Norse mythology, especially as it also includes crossovers from Germanic mythology, references to Roman/Greek influences and chronicles, eastern traditions and whether or not there were any Celtic influences at work (rare but in a few places in the book).

The division of the book into separate chapters based on the organization of the gods/mythology is sensible and makes reading easier. I especially liked the discussion of both major and mi
Marian Allen
I thought I knew a lot about Norse mythology, but I didn't. The "Norse mythology" I knew was a vast simplification of a varied collection of myths, gods and cosmologies all smooshed together, the way all the views of the divine and stories about humanity's relationship with the divine in Christianity are all smooshed together and blended into one homogeneous story that doesn't do justice to the richness of all the traditions that went into it.

It was particularly interesting to me that Odin, the
Oct 04, 2011 rated it really liked it
What did the Vikings really think of their gods? Why was Odin, their chief god, not to be trusted? Who did the German tribes believe brought them victory in battle? Did anyone ever worship Balder?

Excellent guide to the pagan beliefs of the germanic peoples from Scandinavia to England which will provide the best answers for these questions you are likely to find. Scholarly, but easy to digest, this book is just as much for the general interested reader as the academic.

Written some decades ago n
Mar 23, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Great book. For the most part very objective. Although a lot is lost in translation when an objective author writes an objective study of any religion it can also be a useful viewpoint in an age when most books you will find with any sort of pagan religion as their focus are going to be a hodge podge of new agey drivel.

Very well written and organized I thought with even a few deep thoughts and considerations sprinkled about though the book as a whole was refreshingly academic. I plan to read mo
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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.
“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.” 1 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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