Myths And Symbols In Pagan Europe * H.R. Ellis Davidson (1988)

Myths and Symbols in Pagan Europe

Scholars like MacCulloch and Jan de Vries were well aware of this, but the parellels have tended to be forgotten or ignored because most recent work on early religion has been firmly restricted to one side or the other.

Thus says Hilda Roderick Ellis Davidson in her conclusion (p. 217). I must say it was very refreshing to see the Germanic (both continental and Scandinavian) and Celtic worlds treated together, not just to compare, but more like two branches of the same tree. Ellis Davidson has delivered a splendid work with an approach that I have not seen often, but also with very ‘practical’ subjects that I had not seen written about so extensively. “Sacred landmarks”, “ceremonial drinking” (the first time I saw the work symbel in a scholarly book), “feats and skills”, “Scandinavian land-spirits”, “the community of the gods”, just to name a few of the many short chapters. This is no book with vague assumptions, floating theories and spacey druids, it is scholarly, but not boring, and trying to make something of the little information that we have without inventing things. Ellis Davidson goes so far that she does not even really pose theories on certain things (I will come back to this), she merely presents what we have. Being very well read, you will not be disappointed by what that is, from myths to sagas to folklore, allways weighing the source.
However she refers to him many times, Ellis Davidson is critical about the theories of Georges Dumézil. She roughly follows Dumézil’s structure, but still manages to shove Heimdall and Balder under the Vanir (p. 221/2), with arguments of course, but without leaving a structure that she writes (p.222) “[…] were kept up as long as they fitted the background of men’s lives and the nature of the lands in which they struggled and fought for survival.” “Even if some of his theories do not fit the Scandinavian and Irish material in detail” (p. 222 again), I personally prefer the structure and the comparitive possibility it gives of Dumézil. Since Ellis Davidson does not (all the time), she sometimes comes to conclusions which I cannot follow. Anyone is entitled to his/her own ideas of course and inspite of this lack of structure, this little book of Ellis Davidson is a must-read for anyone interested in Germanic and/or Celtic religion and society, especially reenactment or reviving groups.
1988 syracuse university press, isbn 0815624387

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