Scholar H. R. Ellis Davidson uses a variety of literary sources, as well as archeological discoveries and historical accounts, to reconstruct the world of the ancient Northern Europeans. The archeological component is important because the older societies she deals with did not have a written literary tradition. As a result, it is necessary to infer the beliefs and values of the culture from material traces that were left behind: tools, jewelry, and household items the people used. By studying these elements, we can get a much better sense of the interactions between Christianity and earlier religions in northern Europe. However, Davidson warns, contemporary students must be ready to accept these societies on their own terms, as their culture is often quite different from current beliefs and practices.
To help you formulate a more comprehensive view of this world than Snorri Sturluson provides in his Prose Edda, this chapter describes the integral role of the Norse gods in everyday life and, in doing so, helps you think about how myths and their attendant rituals evolve, depending on shifts in political boundaries and religious beliefs. As you read, remember to compare the view of northern European civilization in this chapter with the sense of it that you obtained from reading the parts of the Prose Edda describing the Norse view of creation (Chapter 7), the end of the world at Ragnarok (Chapter 14), and the adventures of the gods (Chapter 19). Also, note the terms syncretism, rationalization, and euhemerism, and cite examples from the text.