Researchers disagree on the Viking Age conceptions of the god Odin. The source material is ambiguous and difficult to interpret.
Odin with his two ravens, Hugin and Munin (Illustration from a 19th century document. The Árni Magnússon Institute in Iceland)
Today, the general conception of Odin is that of the one-eyed chief of the Norse gods. However, when it comes to the general conception that was prevalent in the Viking age, researchers disagree.
Up until now, research history shows us that the method for understanding Odin has been wrong.
Annette Lassen says.
“Regarding medieval texts as a single, heathen text and extrapolating an image of Odin from this is not a viable option. The texts are very diverse,” she says.
According to Lassen, once the Christian way of thought has been identified, not much information is left about Odin in the old sources.
She says that while archaeologists and historians of religion may not necessarily agree with this, there is not likely to be anyone disagreeing that it is necessary to analyse the Christian additions, before starting to look into the original Viking Age conception of Odin.
“My aim with the book was to focus on the Medieval Odin figure, clarify the extent to which Christianity has shaped our ideas of heathenism and demonstrate that this calls for circumspection, but also to come up with a method that other researchers can use,” she says.
“Basing a thesis about the pre-Christian Odin on a series of elements from medieval texts about Odin presupposes an interest in whether those elements come from Christian ideas.
ScienceDaily (May 27, 2008) — Although “Viking” literally means “pirate,” recent research has indicated that the Vikings were also traders to the fishmongers of Europe. In a new study, Jørgen Dissing and colleagues from the University of Copenhagen, investigated what went under the helmet; the scientists were able to extract authentic DNA from ancient Viking skeletons, avoiding many of the problems of contamination faced by past researchers.
Sampling of teeth for aDNA analysis. The last layer of soil was removed and two teeth extracted while wearing full body suit, hairnet, gloves, shoe covers, and face masks. The teeth were placed in sealed sterile tubes and transported to the aDNA-lab. (Credit: Melchior L et al. Evidence of Authentic DNA from Danish Viking Age Skeletons Untouched by Humans for 1,000 Years. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0002214)
Analysis of the Viking DNA showed no evidence of contamination with extraneous DNA, and typing of the endogenous DNA gave reproducible results and showed that these individuals were just as diverse as contemporary humans.