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17. Pagan Myth and Religion

Peter Orton

Subject Literature » Medieval Literature

Place Northern Europe » Scandinavia

DOI: 10.1111/b.9780631235026.2004.00020.x


The official adoption of the Christian religion in Denmark, Sweden, Norway and Iceland took place at various times between the mid-tenth century AD and the end of the eleventh. Although we possess no detailed contemporary, or even near-contem-porary, accounts of the processes of conversion in any part of Scandinavia, it is clear that in no case should we envisage a sudden, national or complete reorientation of religious thought and activity. Before the period I have defined, individual Scandinavians came into contact with Christianity and its adherents as they travelled and traded in Europe and beyond, and some of them changed their religion as a result; but when more determined and systematic attempts were made to convert whole peoples, the pagan Scandinavians were often reluctant to abandon the gods and goddesses to whom they and their forebears had devoted themselves for centuries past. Although our written evidence is very limited, and often of uncertain direct value because of the Christian perspective it inevitably reflects, it is reasonably clear that paganism nowhere simply collapsed at the first touch of Christian doctrine. Much of what we know about the conversion of Iceland is drawn largely from the account written by the priest and historian Ari Þorgilsson in the first half of the twelfth century ( Benediktsson 1968 : 14–18; see also Strömbäck 1975 : 13–26). Óláfr Tryggvason, ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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