“Nordic Religions in the Viking Age”

Thomas A. DuBois
$19.95 paper, 256 pages

The popular image of the Viking as a horn-helmeted berserker plying the ocean in a dragon-headed long boat is firmly fixed in our historical imaginations. We have visions of Viking “conquerors” pillaging peaceful farming communities along the coasts of England and Western Europe.

But this image distorts the reality of the Viking age, a period that straddled the first millennium, when Norse explorers and traders participated in a complex exchange of technology, customs and religious beliefs between the ancient pagan societies of Northern Europe and the Christian-dominated nations of the Mediterranean.

Thomas DuBois, professor of Scandinavian studies at the University of Washington, unravels for the first time the history of the Nordic religions in the Viking age. Beginning with a cultural geography of the peoples of Northern Europe -- the Finns, Lapps and Germanic tribes -- DuBois takes the reader through a compendium of ancient Norse gods, mystical beings and myths, and introduces us to ritual practices gleaned from artifacts and oral literature.

The heart of the book is the history of the gradual conversion of pagans to Christianity, a process that played out over the course of several centuries. DuBois discovered that for centuries prior to the Christian conversions, and for generations thereafter, individuals, communities and kingdoms developed their own specific religious systems, selecting deities, rituals and worldviews in a manner that supported and explained the realities of their own particular experiences. Nordic religion at any given point in space or time could be seen as both an artifact of its past and a reflection of its present.

Putting to rest notions of a centralized, monolithic ethnic religion, “Nordic Religions in the Viking Age” is a glimpse into a former world where an array of different religious communities, pagan and Christian alike, flourished.

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Originally published on September 30, 1999