A History of the study of the Lore

The study of Teutonic mythology may be traced back to the seventeenth century, when publications already appeared in which either the popular beliefs or the antiquities of a particular region are treated. In 1691 a Scottish clergyman, R. Kirk, wrote a treatise on ” elves, fauns, and fairies,” which has recently been reprinted as a document of historical interest, while in the Netherlands J Picardt, in 1660, issued a work on Teutonic antiquities. As early as 1648, however, Elias Schedius  had essayed a complete Teutonic Mythology, a rather bulky work, in which the passages of the ancient writers descriptive of various peoples are treated with little historical discrimination. To these two sources, popular beliefs and the classical writers, there were soon added the records discovered in the North and the antiquities brought to light in various parts of Germany. The books and treatises dealing with this material as a whole or in part had, by the middle of the eighteenth century, reached the number of one thousand. Special mention among these should be made of Trogillus Arnkiel, who first made use of the works of Scandinavian scholars, and of J. G. Keysler, who drew upon Latin inscriptions and popular beliefs. Nearly all the writers of this period regarded the heathen gods from a euhemeristic point of view, as departed heroes. No one of them was able to establish his work on a sound historical basis by distinguishing between Teutons and Kelts. The Scandinavian countries were destined to give the first impetus to the fruitful study of Teutonic antiquity. It would be erroneous, however, to suppose that in these regions the classic period of medieval literature passed imperceptibly into the period of historical study. Even in Iceland, the centre of Old Norse literary development, the historic past and the indigenous literature were, in the fifteenth and during the larger part of the sixteenth century, well-nigh forgotten. The Renaissance does not begin until the end of the sixteenth century, with the historical and literary labors of Arngrimr Jonsson and Bjorn Jonsson a Skardhsa. Much, indeed, had even then been accomplished elsewhere ; the Paris edition of Saxo dates from the year 1514, and in the middle of the same century the last archbishop of Upsala, Olaus Magnus, had made the first attempt at writing a Norse Mythology, based on Saxo, on the Latin writers, and on the conditions of his own time. Olaus had also investigated the monuments and drawn up a runic alphabet. Not until the seventeenth century, however, did the range of these studies begin to widen. In Denmark Ole Worm, Stephanius, and P. Resenius occupied themselves with monuments and runes, with the editing of Saxo, and the collecting of manuscripts. This was made possible after Brynjolf Sveinsson, Bishop of Skalholt in Iceland, had, in 1640, discovered the most important manuscript of the prose Edda — already known at that time —and had in 1643 first brought to light the Poetic Edda. Despite the fact that the great fire at Kopenhagen in 1728 destroyed many manuscripts, and that during the second half of the seventeenth century many more were lost, there yet remained an extensive literature, including sagas, preserved in four great collections, which were destined- to form the basis of subsequent study. These four collections are: 1. The manuscripts collected by Brynjolf himself and sent in 1662 to the king of Denmark (codices Regii). 2. The collection of Ami Magnusson made between 1690 and 1728 (codices A. M.). Both of these collections are to be found in Kopenhagen. 3. The manuscripts collected by Stephanius, now at Upsala (codices U.). 4. The codices Holmenses (codices H.), discovered in Iceland during the latter half of the seventeenth century, and at present in Stockholm. or a long time afterward, the most fantastic ideas prevailed concerning its origin and antiquity. What had been found was thought to be only a small fragment of an Eddic archetype attributed to the Aesir themselves or to the princess Edda, shortly after the time of Odhin. This archetype, it was thought, contained the patriarchal beliefs of the ancient Atlantis-dwellers, some three hundred years before the Trojan war. The oldest runes were believed to date from 2000 b.c. Following in the wake of Danish scholars and under the influence of conceptions peculiar to the eighteenth century, Mallet, a Swiss, wrote a book, the purpose of which was to delineate the history of civilization. The North was extolled as the cradle of liberty, and Mallet included in his treatise a translation of several selections from the Edda. The book was translated into English in 1770 by Bishop Percy, who added an important preface, in which a sharp distinction was, for the first time, drawn between Teutonic and Keltic legends and antiquities. Literature also turned these finds to good account. In Germany, Herder, with his breadth of view, did not fail to recognize the value of Old Norse literature. Standing under the influence of the currents of thought prevailing in the eighteenth century, he paved the way for the Romanticism of the nineteenth. His broad and profound intellect combined cosmopolitan interests with an appreciation of the characteristically national, a love for the natural with a feeling for historical development. He took hold of the new material and opened up new points of view. From near and far he gathered folk-songs, though among these naive Stimmen der Volker, as he called them, there is many a song which we no longer regard in this light. Thus he believed Voluspa to be a product of primitive times, although he recognized that criticism had not as yet passed a final judgment on the poem. The less known F. D. Grater also helped to spread a knowledge of Norse mythology and of folk-song. In Denmark the spirit of patriotism served to heighten the interest in the newly discovered poetry. Ohlenschlager, proceeding on the supposition that the Eddic poems were parts of a single production, sought through his cycle of poems to infuse new life into the old myths. What the elder Grundtvig achieved along this line also belongs to the domain of literature rather than that of science. N. F. S. Grundtvig, the enemy of rationalism, the champion of personal faith and the living word as against petrified formalism in church and dogma, also showed great zeal in advocating the development of national character and put the stamp of his individuality on the intellectual life of his people. His enthusiasm for the Norse heroic age, his acumen in the treatment of myths, whose profound figurative language he sought to interpret, his graceful renderings of these ancient legends in beautiful poems, all this may have borne little or no fruit to the cause of science, but it unquestionably imbued the heroic age with new life in the popular mind. Meanwhile the opinion that the Edda contained a most ancient, original, and splendid mythology was not held without opposition. Finn Jonsson, who a century after Brynjolf held the episcopal see of Skalholt, recognized in the Edda a mixture of Christian ideas and scandalous fabrications. In a brief survey of the production he discussed the main features of the religion in a somewhat dry and prosaic fashion. A deeper impression was made by the direction which studies in Teutonic mythology took in Germany. As early as 1720 Keysler suspected the existence of Christian influences in Norse mythology. Towards the end of the eighteenth and the beginning of the nineteenth century this opinion steadily gained ground through the writings of von Schlozer, Fr. Adelung, and Fr. Riihs. The work of these three authors is frequently placed in one category, but in reality only that of Riihs possesses scientific value. He distinguished in Norse mythology three factors : popular conceptions of Teutonic origin, Christian ideas, and fragments of Greek and Roman mythology. The Edda, he contended, could not be regarded as the common heritage of the Teutons, nor even of all Scandinavians. It was a poetic production that had originated in Iceland under Anglo-Saxon influences. The culture of the North was of Christian origin. A view well suited for the time and one which completely dismisses any archeological information concerning the timelines of history. For the Church, all good things originated from within the corridors of their relatively new halls of study. The world was still grappling to some extent with Newtonian physics. The kinship of these ideas with recent theories and results is self-evident. The chief centre of these studies remained, for the time being, Kopenhagen, where collections of manuscripts and monuments were deposited, and where, also, these studies received strong encouragement because they were regarded as subserving national interests. From 1777 to 1783 a beautiful edition of Snorri’s Heimskringla, in three volumes, was published at the expense of the Danish crown-prince. In 1806 the erection of a museum of Norse antiquities was begun. In 1809 the publication of the Danish Kampoviser was commenced, while a few years later, in 1815, the Icelander Thorkelin furnished the edition princeps of Beowulf. Rasmus Nyerup (1759-1829) carried on extensive investigations in Old Danish popular literature, archaeology, and mythology. R. K. Rask (1 787-1832), who was one of the founders of modern linguistic science, sought the origin of Old Norse in Old Thracian, from which he also derived Greek and Latin. While Rask did not extend his comparisons to the Asiatic languages, the Icelander, Finn Magnusen (1781-1847), did not hesitate to find parallels in Oriental and Egyptian mythology, which he regarded as evidences of a common primitive origin. Both in editions of texts and in works on mythology he made use of an enormous mass of material, much of which is still of value despite the fact that no reliance can be placed on his astronomical interpretations, on the accuracy of his Oriental parallels, or on his theory of the Trojan origin of the Northern peoples. Thus the horizon gradually widened, notwithstanding the fantastic and arbitrary combinations that were still being made. Skule Thorlacius, in a study on Thor and his hammer, went so far as to make an isolated attempt to distinguish between the earlier and later elements of mythology. No one of these men, however, produced work of more lasting value than P. E. Miiller (1776-1834), who took up the gauntlet in defense of the genuineness of the  Aesir-religion in a manner that carried conviction to the Brothers Grimm and to many of their successors. He was the first to render a rich and well-arranged collection of heroic and historical sagas from medieval Norwegian-Icelandic literature accessible, and his edition of Saxo, with Prolegomena and Nota Uberiores, completed after the his death by of J. the M.Grimms Velschow, Germany possesses lasting value. Before the advent of the Grimms, Germany was far behind the Danes and Icelanders in the study of mythology. With the national revival, however, that followed the French domination, the famous minister of education, von Stein, gave the first impulse towards the publication of that gigantic collection of historical sources known as the ” Monumenta Germaniae Historica,” which, under the editorship of G. H. Pertz, began to appear in 1826. But indispensable as these sources subsequently proved to be for the study of Teutonic heathenism, their publication at first exerted little or no influence. It is difficult to form a just estimate of the Value of the mythological work done in Germany during the first decades of our century under the influence of the Romantic movement. There can be no question of the good service which the movement rendered to the cause of science and of culture. Through the two Schlegels, August Wilhelm and Friedrich, and through Tieck, the language and gnomic wisdom of the ancient Hindus, as well as the works of Calderon and Shakespeare, and such subjects as the Middle Ages and popular poetry, were first brought within the general horizon. The Romanticists were also strongly attracted towards the study of the national past and of Teutonic paganism, though this interest did not proceed from the above-mentioned leaders of the movement. Heidelberg became the centre for the study of mythology, with Gorres, von Arnim, Brentano, and Creuzer as the chief representatives. Among these the most gifted, perhaps, was Joseph Gorres (1776-1848), who devoted himself to editing German chap-books. It was he who perceived the relationship between the Norse and German legends of the heroic saga and recognized the age of migrations as the period which gave rise to the legends among Goths, Franks, and Burgundians.

The preceeding work was taken from the book The Religion of the Teutons published in 1902 by a Danish professor Sassauye. The study of this ancient way of life has been going on for centuries. And it has always been at the mercy of the prevailing religious school of thought of the time. It is important to perceive this information concerning the history of what we value today as spiritual with a keen and penetrating intellect. Much of it will have absolutely no bearing upon the development of a spirituality. But there is enough of it around to provide ammunition to those individuals who would prefer to be right with regards to their arguments about self-importance to give new people and social media educated folks a hard time and perhaps even to run them off for good. The lurking dangers of the lowest of men who would utilize half-truths in order to boost their own egos is a threat we cannot underestimate. The damage to those folks who now feel that they have tried the way of this new faith only to find it wanting is incalculable. Only those brave few, who have the wherewithal to cut a path of their own choosing, who are fully aware of the dangers of the uninspired human intellect parading hand in glove with out of proportion ego’s (Loki’s outburst at the table with the Aesir during Aegirs feast is the prime example) and who have made a commitment to understand that through all of time, natural disaster, wars, famines, pestilence, competing religious systems and death, that this material is now presented to us in a time when we might need it the most. For it appears that the moral compass of the world is in pieces. As the magnetic pole of the Earth shifts, so too does the direction of the human spirit, and ours cries out for direction. No matter the various treatments which history has afforded this great mythology of the north, a mythology which provided purpose, guidance and direction for millions of people for thousands of years, what we have today is exactly what we need to survive whatever the future may hold for us.


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