Norse Mythology Discussion

Discuss in 500-700 words and organize your report this way:

1. The name of the group under investigation and a brief statement of 2-3 sentences explaining your interest.

2. Who are your group’s heroes and heroines and why? Answer with particular stories from your research and include elements of the hero journey from week 5. Cite your sources for these in MLA style.

3. What does/did your group hope for, or where is/was it going? Put your answer in the form of a myth; that is, tell the story using elements of the hero pattern as well as any feature from eschatology. Cite at least one source for these in MLA style.

Review Reviewed Work(s): Handbook of Norse Mythology by John Lindow Review by: Jacqueline Simpson Source: Folklore, Vol. 114, No. 2 (Aug., 2003), pp. 275-276 Published by: Taylor & Francis, Ltd. on behalf of Folklore Enterprises, Ltd. Stable URL: Accessed: 20-03-2019 03:44 UTC

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Reviews of Folklore Scholarship 275

The story is told simply and with no attempt to idyllicise a way of life that is rapidly disappearing. Effects of Westernisation, both good and bad, are remarked on. Alice Snow herself is a woman of few illusions, anxious to preserve the old knowledge while accepting that change is inevitable. As a child, she had the foresight to appreciate the importance of learning to speak English, despite being discouraged by her parents’ generation from attending school. Her resulting knowledge of English has enabled her to act as interpreter and go-between for her people during a lifetime that has witnessed enormous changes. In addition to rearing her family, Alice has worked in a large number of jobs, apart from her unpaid work with herbs. The materia medica that Alice draws upon is more limited than that reported a

generation earlier by Sturtevant, a fact that emphasises the importance of preserving such knowledge before it is all irrevocably lost. Her knowledge of healing plants has been handed down from her mother and grandmother, and she has been determined to preserve it. This book was written despite some opposition from older members of her community. As Alice herself says, all she is telling is the names of plants; she does not claim to convey the whole system of healing. Her own role is that of assistant, collecting the plants that are then taken to a medicine man who empowers them. The overlap that is reported between Western medicine and the traditional healing methods is interesting too: sometimes one is used, sometimes the other, and sometimes a combination of both.

Susan Stans has skilfully and unobtrusively painted in the background information concerning the recent history of the Seminoles and the life story of Alice Snow. Her obvious friendship with Alice changes what could be a dull outsider’s account to a sympathetic portrait of Alice’s background and history. Family photographs enhance the account.

A further great strength of the book is the trouble that has been taken to identify the plants by their Mikasuki and Creek names, as well as their English and botanical names. There are some delightful line drawings and, at the end of the book, excellent colour photographs of all the plants mentioned, together with important notes on the details of collection methods, which parts of the plant are harvested, and where they are likely to be found.

I strongly recommend this book not only to anthropologists or botanists, but also to anyone interested in obtaining an authentic insight into a lifestyle unknown to most of US.

Gabrielle Hatfield, Folklore Society

Handbook of Norse Mythology. By John Lindow. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-Clio, 2001. 364 pp. Illus. L42.95 (hbk). ISBN 1-57607-217-7

This is an excellently thorough, reliable and up-to-date survey of Norse mythology; its format is closer to the encyclopaedia than the dictionary, for many of the entries are substantial, and those on major and/or controversial topics are given ample biblio- graphical annotation. The main section sets out “Deities,” “Themes,” and “Concepts” (alphabetically arranged); this is preceded by a useful general chapter on the historical background and the evidence for cult activities, and another on “The Nature of Mythic Time.” The book concludes with an assessment of sources and suggestions for further reading.

John Lindow demonstrates a thorough grasp of the subject, both in its literary and its archaeological aspects; he is always clear, and often witty, and his copious quotations

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276 Reviews of Folklore Scholarship

from the original sources are well rendered. This is not merely a reference book, but one that can be read with genuine enjoyment.

Jacqueline Simpson, Folklore Society

Last Cavalier: The Life and Times of John A. Lomax 1867-1948. By Nolan Porterfield. (Folklore and Society.) Urbana, IL and Chicago, IL: University of Illinois Press, 1996. 580 pp. B/W illus. $34.95 (hbk), $24.95 (pbk). ISBN 0-252-02216-5 (hbk), ISBN 0-252- 06971-4 (pbk)

In one sense, this review of Nolan Porterfield’s magnificent biography of John Lomax is rather tardy, because Last Cavalier was first published in 1996. However, a paperback edition was published in 2001, and hopefully its appearance means that the book has enjoyed something of the success it certainly deserves. The John Lomax of Porterfield’s account is an individual of massive contradictions: a

friend who could bear grudges for years and apologise for offence given long after it had been forgotten by everyone else; a Southern conservative, notably at odds with his son Alan’s well-known political views, who championed black folksong even while its very authenticity was, to his mind, dependent on the continued separation of the black population from mainstream American society. Porterfield neither excuses nor con- demns, but seeks to explain-and similarly with Lomax’s alleged exploitation of black singers like Leadbelly and Iron Head. Lomax, it seems, as both writer and collector, was constantly inventing both himself

and his subjects. Yet he was not unique in this: the extent to which the collection and publication of folksongs (and folklore at large) in America after Child has represented an exercise in the invention of “authentic” American culture is something closely entwined with the John Lomax story. The making of Cowboy Songs and Other Frontier Ballads can stand for all his work in this regard. It is a piece of myth-making that not only allowed Lomax to embrace a wholly romantic image of the cowboy, and even to project himself as one, but would see no lesser light than George Lyman Kittredge endorse, or at least give free rein to, Lomax’s less than scholarly notions. The important thing, Kittredge had told him, was “to get the stuff” and Lomax, no theorist (despite his first wife’s one-time ambition that he should aspire to become a scholar of the stature of Francis James Child), did just that-getting and compiling from a variety of miscel- laneous sources in order to preserve and popularise, not just the songs of “a fairly narrow band of ‘folk,’ confined more or less by definition to those of a single gender and a single, rather minor occupation,” but dozens of songs that have become deeply ingrained in the American imagination. Notwithstanding Harvard’s endorsement at the time, Lomax’s lack of formal

qualifications and the popular success of his publications (perhaps even more than his scholarly lapses) eventually earned him the antagonism of the American folklore establishment. Having co-founded the Texas Folklore Society and twice been elected president of the American Folklore Society, he was finally ostracised by the latter. His wry response was masterly: “… perhaps the collector must go out among the people dressed in cap and gown.” At one time, Lomax was succeeded at the Library of Congress by Benjamin Botkin, whose qualifications were impeccable, yet he too would fall foul of the folklore elite (most especially in the person of Richard Dorson) for publishing folklore materials in a popular format. Read from a British perspective (from which a number of allusions to Texan and

American history, politics, and culture remain a little obscure), the resonances with the early history of folksong collecting in England are telling. Lomax had to fight hard for

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Issue Table of Contents
Folklore, Vol. 114, No. 2 (Aug., 2003), pp. 155-284
Front Matter
“Good Fences Make Good Neighbours”: History and Significance of an Ambiguous Proverb [pp. 155-179]
Focus on “The Nightmare”
The Nightmare Experience, Sleep Paralysis, and Witchcraft Accusations [pp. 181-203]
Cheese Gives You Nightmares: Old Hags and Heartburn [pp. 205-225]
Bedding the Nightmare: Somatic Experience and Narrative Meaning in Dutch and Flemish Legend Texts [pp. 227-245]
Topics, Notes and Comments
Medieval Foliate Heads: A Photographic Study of Green Men and Green Beasts in Britain [pp. 247-261]
From Stage to Folk: A Note on the Passages from Addison’s Rosamond in the “Truro” Mummers’ Play [pp. 262-270]
Reviews of Folklore Scholarship
Katharine Briggs Folklore Award 2002: Judges’ Report [p. 271-271]
Book Reviews
Review: untitled [pp. 271-273]
Review: untitled [pp. 273-274]
Review: untitled [pp. 274-275]
Review: untitled [pp. 275-276]
Review: untitled [pp. 276-277]
Review: untitled [pp. 277-278]
Review: untitled [pp. 278-279]
Review: untitled [pp. 279-280]
Review: untitled [pp. 280-281]
Review: untitled [pp. 281-282]
Books Received [pp. 282-284]
Back Matter
Myth, Eschatology and the Future

Destruction and Conceptions of Time

Many mythologies discuss the ultimate end of time, in which chaotic forces destroy the world. These myths are called eschatological (Greek eschatos: “‘last, furthest”) because they discuss the “ultimate” topics. Sometimes we see glimmers of hope through a new creation or in a better world after life on Earth has been destroyed in huge catastrophes. The mythical concept of time thus tends to be cyclical. Although belief in individual rebirth is one of the basic theories of afterlife, we can find a parallel to this view in cosmogonic myths about the rebirth of the universe.

Thus, in Hindu mythology, the demiurge Brahma recreates the universe time and again. Every day in Brahma’s life is a cosmic era (kalpa) that ends with the destruction of the universe. A kalpa is divided into one thousand mahayugas (“great periods”), life cycles of the universe. Each of them consists of four ages: krita, treta, dvapara, and kali. In the first age, righteousness rules, people live long, and they are healthy and happy. Humans later deviate from the truth, and diseases, disasters, and corruption appear. At present, we are in the middle of the most unfortunate age of kaliyuga, when unhappiness, pain, and corruption rule.

In some sources, these four ages are connected with different metals: gold, silver, copper, and iron. Such a doctrine of four ages was also known in ancient Persia (Basham 1959, 321). A similar concept of cosmic ages, including naming these ages according to the same metals, can be found in a work composed by the Greek poet Hesiod around 700 B.C.E. Thus, all these mythical doctrines seem to be related and perhaps even derive from the old Indo-¬European traditions. We can see that the pessimistic idea of decline and the devolution of human civilization is much older than the modern myth of evolution and the progress of humankind.

Cosmic Catastrophes

The world’s various mythologies present many scenarios for the future cosmic catastrophes that end life on Earth. The cyclical worldview itself promotes the belief that creation will ultimately lead to destruction and that death follows life. In these mythologies, we repeatedly find a belief in the constant increase of evil and injustice in the world. Finally, the world deteriorates so much from the primordial happy age that it needs to be purified. Thus, these scenarios are not completely pessimistic. After the cosmic catastrophe, there will be a renewal of life and a new, better world will be born.


In the Hebrew Bible, we find a flood myth in which the flood is meant as punishment for sinful humans who had been corrupted by fallen angels. Before the Deluge, evil murderous giants lived on Earth whose seed had to be destroyed. God had mercy only for the righteous Noah, who built a boat and saved humankind and the animals from extinction.

In ancient Indian myths, the equivalent of Noah is Manu, who saved a little fish. The fish warned him of a coming flood and told him to build a boat. Later, when Manu was drifting on the vast ocean in his boat, the same fish towed it to the peaks of the Himalayas, where Manu became the forefather of later generations. We can see that these myths about great catastrophes also are survival stories that tell of the continuation of life.


Other myths describe the destruction of the world through fire. Some Native¬ American visions of the future, such as the Hopi prophecies, foretell a period of chastisement known as the Great Purification that will lead to a fiery world cataclysm (Wojcik 1997, 9).

The depiction of Ragnarak (“fate of gods”) in old Germanic sources is one of the most elaborate myths of cosmic catastrophes. The sun is devoured by the demonic wolf Fenrir, and the evil god Loki leads the giants to fight against the gods. After a tremendous battle in which the gods perish, Earth and heaven are seized by flames and destroyed. Yet, even in this myth cycle, we find hope in the renewal of the Earth, which will grow plants again. A happy age of harmony and love will follow the great destruction.


Many myths depict cosmic conflicts in terms of military fights, such as the war between devas and asuras in Hindu mythology or the battle in heaven between St. Michael and Lucifer in Christianity. Little wonder, then, that in our present time of weapons of mass destruction and nuclear energy, the old eschatological myths have again become topical.

Myths that predict catastrophes precede our current awareness of the vulnerability and fragility of life on Earth. Before and during the last turn of the millennium, many people looked for signs that predicted the end of the world, as foretold in the Bible and other religious texts. Times of war, terrorism, and other crises bring eschatological myths to the center of attention and make us question the future of our world.

Images of mythic or military destruction draw our attention to the need to preserve social and political stability and to maintain balanced life on Earth. The fatal military catastrophe that completely destroys everything seems more pessimistic than mythical views about a happy renewal of life after the destruction is over. One hopes that, being aware of these dangers, humankind does everything possible to avoid the tragic end.

Questions to Think About

· Can you distinguish clearly between mythical, rational, and scientific theories about the end of the world? Can you give examples of them?

· The destruction of the world or our civilization is a common topic in science fiction novels and films. Think about such works of art and their various scenarios. What do you think makes such topics attractive to the audience?


Basham, Al. 1959. The Wonder that was India. New York: Grove Press, Inc.

Wojcik, Daniel. 1997. The End of the World as We Know It: Faith, Fatalism, and Apocalypse in America. New York and London: New York University Press.

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