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H.R. Ellis Davidson

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
see here for two more quotes

Gods And Myths Of Northern Europe * Hilda Roderick Ellis Davidson (1964/90)

Gods And Myths Of Northern EuropeA while ago, I got myself two books by Ellis Davidson, mostly because Dumézil refers to her frequently. I was positively surprised by the popular-looking large book with many images Scandinavian Mythology. In that book Ellis Davidson gives a nice overview of the myths and sagas (but without references most of the time), has great images and has some thought-provoking remarks here and there. Gods And Myths Of Northern Europe looks more ‘serious’, but this little book is actually not very special at all. Quite standard information, again a mix of all kinds of unnamed sources and just a few interesting theories. The composition isn’t even too good and in general this is just a nice book about “Anglo Saxon and Viking” mythology. I don’t know if to suggest this book to beginners (they will only get a very rudimantary idea without references for further study) or ‘advanced students’ (the information is too standard). The nice glossary in the back seems to imply that the book was meant for the first group. In any case, not a bad book about Scandinavian mythology, but not the best either.
Read quotes of Ellis Davidson here.
1964/90 * isbn 0140136274

Scandinavian Mythology * Hilda Roderick Ellis Davidson (1969)

Scandinavian MythologyBecause Dumézil refers to Ellis Davidson frequently in his works on Germanic mythology, I ordered two of her books. The other one is a small paperback and I will review it when I read it, the book here looks like one of these popular large books with many images. The book is both a visual experience and a highly informative book about Scandinavian mythology! However the book is rather old, there are images and information in it that are/is new to me. The ordering of the book is logical with starters information, the Gods and Goddesses in different groups, other beings, etc. and on the end the transition to Christianity time. In the “blog” section I have put some quotes in which Ellis Davidson proves her original and thought-provoking ideas and besides many mythological stories and folklore (mostly without references unfortunately) the writer gives information from a variety of scientific disciplines. The greatest part is the end in which Ellis Davidson retells lot of stories from the time between “paganism” and Christianity, most of which I hadn’t read so far.
The book is no longer in print, but very well, and very cheaply, available second hand. I can recommand it to both ‘beginners’ and ‘advanced’ students of Northern European mythology.
Read quotes of Ellis Davidson here.
1969 hamlyn * isbn 600036375