Norse mythology

Mistletoe symbol throughout time

*With this post I want to wish to all of you wonderful preparation for the upcoming holiday days. Wish you love, happiness, warm in your heart and joy.

Mistletoe

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Today, mistletoe is associated largely by the tradition of kissing modestly under it. However, back into the ancient times, there are many other practices as well relating to it.

For instance, in ancient Greece, the plant was sacred and rare to be found. According to the myth, once the Gods were offended by the plant, so they refused to look at it when women were being kissed under it.
The ancient druids had different specification of the plant, though they regarded it as a sacred and gave it their reverence. Interesting fact to reflect upon is that they considered the plant to consist the sperm of the God. Moreover, they used it with herbal function to cure almost everything, from witchcraft to antidote against poison. Nonetheless, one long standing tradition among the Druids was that after the sixth day of the winter solstice (‘Alban Arthan’), they used to cut the three, with a golden knife being extremely precautious the three not to touch the ground as it could lose its magic powers of protection, and divide its branches after distribution among the people. Those branches were hung in the doors of their homes in order to protect them from evil spirits and all devilish spirits.

In Norse Mythology, there is a legend explaining the origin of the mistletoe. Everything began with the norse god Balder, who was the most beloved one by all, but mostly by his mother , Frigga. She wanted to protect her son from all the evil in the world, that’s why she went far and wide into the world collecting promises from everything which contained the four elements – fire, water, air and earth. However , she chose Loki to find her the loophole, which was the mistletoe. Not only did he find it, but he made arrow from the wood of the plant. Unfortunately, Loki was not filled with good intentions, he gave the arrow to Balder ‘s brother, who was blind, dictating every move of the latter, the arrow pointed Balder’s heart and he died. As a consequences, Frigga’s tears turned into the mistletoe ‘s berries.

During the Romans’ times , the practice of kissing under a branch of this plant, could be traced back into the festive celebration of Saturnalia, a festival which brought into a daylight all kind of indulgence, such as conspicuous consumption of drinks, food and practicing sexual activities . The day on which all of that took place was 17th December, after that it was chosen someone who pleased himself more than the other, he/she was sacrificed in order all evil influence in people’s hearts to be exterminated by this ritual.

Back into the medieval times, many people hung branches of the plant in front of their doors or home’s ceiling, they believed that the plant could extinguish fire and make the evil spirits go away. As we could see the promotion of the idea of the mistletoe as a symbol of the good, harmony and protection preserved despite the fact that so different group of societies used and adopted its meaning and origin.

The Vikings’ World

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The importance of the death in viking’s culture

 

Like many other tribes at their period(during late 8th to the mid-11th centuries), the Viking accumulated their religion throughout their ‘pagan’ practices, worshiping varieties of Gods. Their perception of the world and its structure was an extraordinary and sophisticated. According to them the world was divided into two integral parts- the first one was an empirical world in which people live and the second one was the other world where spirits and Gods could be found.  Moreover, constant contact with the other world through cults or rituals could reinforce and control the mobility, vitality and fertility of the community in which they lived.

Cult and rituals played essential role in how the community lived and developed as it was for utmost importance for them to maintain their communication with the Gods or the Spirits. The main reason for this could have been their attitude towards the ones who passed away. For them, the death was not the end of their existence,but only another way with which they could continue their journey. Moreover ,they were firm believers that the deceased ones had power over them and could both help them but also made them suffer in some sort of revenge, it depended on the life the person led. Viking viewed the death throughout their eyes as event in which one person’s spirit ceased to exist in the material world, but continued to live in the future generations in their community as inherited part of the other people’s souls. There is something deeply mysterious and magical in that perception, don’t you think?

Nevertheless, much more interesting is the fact that sometimes they understood the act of death as benevolent salvation if the life was experienced only throughout pain and suffering or if they wanted to obtain something which they could not in their life. For instance, Odin, the most important God of them all (equivalent with Zeus in the Greek mythology) , once committed a suicide in order to obtain wisdom.

The graves in which the dead people were buried were not only sacral places, but also the new home for the deceased. Many people were buried in close proximity with the farms or the places where the community lived. They would take care of the people living there as long as they were worshiped and venerated by them. Very often food and drinks were placed in the grave as an act of honour and reverence, not only during the burials.

However, there is somewhat slight contradiction regarding the existence of the so-called ‘Hel’ in Vikings’ culture. The ‘Hel’ is very often related with hylja , which means cover while this name stood for the place where the soul of the death person occupied or it was a collective death realm. It is rather spooky according to its description – a place which highly resembles a prison with high walls and gates without escape. The ‘Hel’ was presented by Snorri, which had to help you to cross one bridge and after that one river and once the gates were shut in front of you there was no turning back.  : your dish is called Hunger, your  knife Famine, your threshold, where you enter, Stumbling-block, your bed Sick-bed, your curtains Gleaming-bale. Something shivered down my back while I read this description for the first time. Moreover, I could possibly find a clear and strong resembles again with the Greek mythology where the dead souls have to encounter similar journey just to be in the hands of the hideous Hades, the God of the Underworld.

 

The women in Viking’s society

Women in the Norse world along with their mother instincts and willingness to provide everything needed for sustaining good life in the community, enjoyed more freedom than the women in one Christian society, for example. There were dependent from their husbands, brothers or even fathers ,but they could impose their rights if it came to the land. On the other hand, they were prohibited from taking part in any political activities within the community , they could not be witnesses or judges regarding matters not concerning themselves.

Women were praised for their beauty and wisdom, they often led their husbands and supported them in decisive moments or when they needed further encouragement . Moreover, they were protected from the laws in the community when it came down to unwanted attention from someone in it. For instance, they were able to raise objections regarding different performance of intimacy –from verbal offence to intercourse, if it was undesirable one. Women were often granted authority and right to have ‘say’ in some aspect of the life concerning the welfare of the society, in the absence of their husbands. With this, we could estimate the responsibility on the women’s shoulders and their important role besides being only mothers and wives.

Regarding the place of pre-Christian world’s society ,Vikings’ women found their place, too. It is worth mentioning the fact that women were involved in some rituals concerning the land spirits and the elves. The land spirits were associated with the land and the localities within area one community lived and were in strong relationship with the nature. Consequently, women as a personification of the fertility , were responsible for calling them and maintain the peace with them.

On the other hand, the elves were much more recognizable and honoured in the lands of Sweden. The rituals involved sacrifices to the elves during the late autumn , as they could grant the people with fertility, growth and health.