Norse Myth in Academia

Merrill Kaplan from Ohio State delved into the issue of the mistletoe in the myth of Balder. How was a weapon made from this frail parasitic plant? In Voluspa, mistletoe is described in terms that defy our knowledge of it: tall and strong. But Snorri only used one adjective for it: young. Dr. Kaplan wonders if the story was originally told to an audience that knew other stories about plants being shamed into changing their form because of their role in noteworthy events. And the issue of the plant's youth appeal to an idea that Frigga didn't ask for its oath not to harm Balder because it was too young to make a valid oath. This talk was followed by some fairly vicious discussion wrapped in dainty academic politesse.

Jackson Crawford from UCLA noted the languages and modes of speech used by "Vikings" in the movies. If you have any doubts that the media manufacture public perception, this talk might have changed your mind.

This excellent conference was concluded by its organizer, Tim Tangherlini of UCLA. He is a quietly hilarious fellow. But, during his remarks, the opening slide from a talk he didn't give appeared by mistake on the screen: something about Odinism in current prison culture. One member of the audience took this as a cue to be horrified in public that this Heathen revival is going on, complete with political assumptions and lurid adjectives. After his talk, some of the Heathens present went to suggest to Dr. Tangherlini that perhaps he'd like to get to know and study Heathens who aren't flagrantly racist convicts. Meanwhile, I went looking for the aforementioned horrified fellow to make a few things clear to him. The results seemed to have been good.

As a final note on the ongoing cultural importance of our mythology, UCLA offers a yearlong survey course on the topic. This fulfills several General Education requirements for undergraduates, as it involves a lot of serious reading, analysis, and writing. Chip Robinson, one of the instructors, told me they were expecting a few students to sign up. As it turned out, demand for the course is almost beyond their ability to serve. People like this stuff. It matters. To some of us, that's no surprise.

5/10/2012 4:00:00 AM
  • Pagan
  • Letters from Midgard
  • Academia
  • Asatru
  • Heathen
  • Mythology
  • Norse
  • Paganism
  • Steven Abell
    About Steven Abell
    Steven Thor Abell is a storyteller and the author of Days in Midgard: A Thousand Years On, a collection of original modern stories based on Heathen myths. As of 2013, he is also Steersman of the High Rede of The Troth.
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