Norse Myth and Bible History

In the early 13th century, so the story commonly goes, a man named Snorri Sturluson realized he was pretty well the last of the ancient skalds, the historians of the Saxon nations. He set himself to preserve the last of a vital and failing tradition. The result was a set of works known as The Prose Edda, the mysterious and sometimes confused lore of a people-group’s origins and adventures.

Sturluson made an assertion that his people were founded from the fall of Troy. It was a guess which has several interesting counterparts throughout European and British legend. What his particular reasons were, we’ll never really know.

What Makes a Legend Legendary

The legend of Thor’s kingdom, with its 540-door palace, is just a legend. It amounts to one man’s belief about the past, undocumented, unverifiable.

Extant, there are four independent partial genealogies of the Saxon/Norse people, preserved in four independent people groups, which makes some parts of their history more authoritative. This is not one of those parts.

With history, we can’t go back and observe it; we can’t test it or repeat it, at least not scientifically, though there is that rumour about ignorance and repetitive doom. We can only look for supporting documents or other ancient artifacts, particularly those that show evidence of being independent sources.

But it makes for great fun with storytelling. So I chose to pick up on minor clues in the old narratives–the idea, for instance, that Odin dragged his magnificent self-deifying statue “back” to Byzantium. That was the single line that started me on this chase for a story.

“Back” to Byzantium? Really? Hmm.

And if Thor is older than Odin, why is he called Odin’s son?

The threads of myth suggest that perhaps Odin became considered the highest, though he wasn’t the first, in part because he separated from his originating culture and went into northern Europe. He’s called the Father of All because he and his wife had a powerful occult gift as seers, for which they were exalted above others in the pantheon.

One way or another, Odin stole someone else’s name: Allfather. Why isn’t Thor called father of all, though he’s listed farther back in independent genealogies, though Sturluson assigns to him the founding of the proto-Saxon people as a distinct nation?

It might mean something more than “founding father.” I suspect this curious name is somewhat accidentally restored to its true owner in Beowulf.

What Makes History Historical

It might be easy to view the mix of my Christian understanding and Norse legend as just a blend of two myths. The key difference between the two is in textual verification.

The discovery of the Qumran scrolls, inscribed approximately 200-150 BC to 60-70 AD, verified that in fact the Old Testament has remained essentially unchanged since at least that time. Archaeology continues to compare the ancient Hebrew text against the ancient records and evidences left by long-gone nations in contact with the Israelis.

The New Testament comes with a stunning level of support from extant manuscripts. Some of these texts were written from a position hostile to biblical faith. Nonetheless, they help to corroborate its existence and its consistency.

As my friend Jackie put it recently, “…what’s also important is that the small treasures we hold, unbroken, remain precious and are acknowledged as our own.”

One of those unbroken treasures – the chief of all – is the verified and well-corroborated biblical text, and the verified, well-corroborated biblical faith. This is the pearl of great price.

Thor’s kingdom is a wisp of mist, a whisper of things that may or may not have been. It’s a delight to play with in story form; but it is, in the end, unable to prove itself more than a fairy-tale.

Not so the faith from which I write about these things.

“For faith is the substance of things not seen, the evidence of things hoped for.”


Heb. 11:1

In order to be the substance and evidence of anything, faith must have some substance and evidence in and of itself. We do not go blindly into a darkness of the mind and heart.

We evaluate what can’t be verified against what can; we evaluate legend by history. We continue to discover and probe, to examine relationships between doctrines and evidences, verifiable teachings and those which depend upon them.

And while we do, may those in disagreement continue to quote the Bible, in or out of context, with any and all viewpoints appended, and so independently establish the record of what this text consists of and what it’s doing in our time. In a historian’s view, there’s great strength in the corroboration of dissenting voices.

A Foot in Both Worlds

I do not know where I belong.

I’m not quite comfortable in the religious realm. I think it’s my own fault; I simply don’t play the game well.

It caused some major, if carefully hidden, waves many years ago when my pastor and church board came in contact with the reality of my past. Theretofore, I’d been the dress-wearing, piano-playing, homeschooling young mother of a rather large number of children, married into a known-to-be-Christian family of the region. I had merely been a two-dimensional affirmation of the cloistered self-satisfaction with which we savour our religious comfort. I seem to have broken some kind of rule there.

Oops.

I don’t fit with grunge Christianity. I find the flaunting of pasts and carelessness toward sin rather disgusting. Post-modernism is pointless to me. We might as while be Pilate and spend our time shrugging and smirking, “What is truth?”

I have no patience for false accusations of legalism against those who don’t believe the search for truth is a buffet line. I am distinctly in favour of a conga line. You know, with a leader and lively music, and waving hands while all following along where the leader’s headed. It’s better for the figure.

Sadly, the ecumenists seem to believe I’m of the Antichrist.

I don’t fit with “conservative,” “fundamental” Christianity–when not wearing a dress, it’s likely to be a leather jacket and jeans. It is my heartfelt conviction that tough and cute go perfectly together in a wardrobe. My biker-chick boots have little hearts in the tread pattern. This is heresy either way you look at it.

I refuse to follow rules that can’t be shown to have consistently-reasoned biblical basis. I have two shameless words in my vocabulary that cause shunnings, both related to donkeys and their by-products. There remain times when the most upbuilding thing to do for another is to offer a succinct offensio a tergo. Only speak such a word as is fit for edification… that’s my rule of grammar.

The staunch seem to believe I’m of the Antichrist too. Perhaps if I put on a meek face?

But I’m not very good at the religious-cultural version of complementarianism either. I hear I’m supposed to be quiet; not engage men in theology talk in case I accidentally teach them something; clean the house; and not think very much about things not pertaining to child-raising and husband-serving.

From what I can tell in my confusion, I don’t suit the various Christian cultural fads because I like hanging out with secular people (bad conservative!) without going along with secular behaviour (bad emerger!). I think it’s gross and pathetic for Christians to get drunk, when the Scripture they claim to be inspired by says outright not to. But I did my time walking wasted friends around the high-school hallways to sober up before class, and a glass of wine or a stout British half-pint doesn’t scare me.

Contemplating this state of affairs sheds a fair bit of light on what I am; as Conan Doyle would have it, when the impossible has been eliminated, whatever remains (however improbable) must be the truth. I’m just not sure where I might do best being it, in the long run. The only answer I have is, where I’ve been stuck. Seems a bit odd, but then it wasn’t up to me.

Healthy trees flex in a wind; dead ones break. Sometimes I don’t know if I’m just mostly dead. Maybe that’s the real problem; maybe it’s me. Inflexible. My mother warned me about a tendency toward that trait.

Thank goodness for shoots that spring from the hidden root, for the resurrection of trees.

I would like to be a tree planted by deep waters, that doesn’t lose its leaves in a drought, lends its shade in desert heat, and bears its fruit in season, come what may. A rather tough tree, with pretty flowers.

That, it seems to me, would belong.

Beneath the Perseids

I was born in a time of falling stars and blue moons. Midweek, midnight, my love and I stood beneath a purple-black sky laced with ghostly finger-wisps. Thick, blank darkness gathered in the west, an ominous emptiness. We faced a bright golden half-moon dangling low on the eastern horizon and watched for rare streaks of fire to scratch the surface of the starry night. To the south, lightning flickered.

The only sounds were a frail cricket chorus and the whispering of ancient spruce towering in a row at our backs. We leaned on each other to stave off exhausted wobbles brought on by days of sand and sun’s heat. Sparks traced the arc of heaven.

Like a fog off the sea, the change of weather drifted across bright planets and pinprick infernos. We thought that rain might come, somewhere, tomorrow. The Perseid sky became a tabula rasa.

Last September, our boat danced dolphinlike on gentle swells as liquid diamonds fell around us, lit by evening light and silhouetted by a wall of shadowy, grumbling power that swept across the rolling sapphire lake. We sat drenched, in awe that magic does exist. Mortals can only own minerals; the moments belong to God.