Maria Kvilhaug

The Maiden With The Mead – Maria Kvilhaug (2009)

In 2004 Maria Kvilhaug presented her dissertation at the department of culture at the University of Oslo. The dissertation was published (I think) but I have never been able to lay my hands on it or it had that ‘academic publishers price’. In 2009 a slightly more affordable version was published. Slightly, since Amazon has the 168 page book listed for $ 95,- which is pretty steep.

As in her later publications Kvilhaug has a quite unique approach to elements in Northern mythology. In this book she investigates the image of “the maiden with the mead”.

Initially this may seem a small subject. We know of images of female figures with a drinking horn for example and in myths and sagas sometimes women are mentioned serving drinks, but in Kvilhaug’s book the subject is much bigger.

Kvilhaug sees initiation stories in these myths and sagas. With Eliade, she sees different kinds of initiations. The maiden is not only the initiator (the mead and her embrace are the goal of the initiation), but also represents its goal as the “Great Mother”. That this is not just a feminist explanation of details in the stories, Kvilhaug shows in detail. She compares different myths and sagas and shows how “the maiden story” is, often not too obviously, present in many stories that we are familiar with. The maidens may seem to be of different kinds, giants, goddesses, queens, but in Kvilhaug’s analysis there is a structure composed of different elements that she finds in the different sources. This gives an interesting approach to famous stories of, for example, Odin’s hanging on the windy tree, his stealing of the mead, but also the Sinfjötli werewolf story.

My main aim […] is not to decide what the hero is initiated into, but to prove that the pattern, the structure of themes, exists, and thus, a “Maiden mythology” reflecting initiation.

An approach I have not come across often even though the thesis is already 17 years old.

2009 VDM Verlag, isbn 9783639161359

The Trickster And The Thundergod – Maria Kvilhaug (2018)

Without knowing I bought the companion to, or second part of, The Poetic Edda. In both books Kvilhaug made her own translations of the famous texts. In the previous book “Six Cosmology Poems”, the current title is (obviously) about Loki and Thor.

The texts are from the Gylfaginning, Skaldskaparmál, Haustlöng, Harbarðsljód, Þrimskviða and Þhórsdrápa.

As in the previous book, Kvilhaug translates most names, sometimes her translations in general are different from what you are used to, but what I really appreciate is that in the notes you can often see the reason of the particular translation and often Kvilhaug notes the subtleties of the original words. I would have preferred to keep the Original names and give translations in the notes, but that is just a choice the translator

The Trickster and the Thundergod makes a nice read. Of course you will probably know all the texts, but a critical translation could very well raise some thoughts.

2018 CreateSpace, isbn 1983994650

The Poetic Edda – Maria Kvilhaug (2016)

I have known the name of the Norwegian Maria Kvilhaug (1975-) for some time, but never got to read anything of her. The apparently most interesting title The Seeds Of Yggdrasil (2012) is very expensive and then my eye fell on this very recent (November 2016) little book with “Six Cosmology Poems” that Kvilhaug had translated herself. What is more, she put the original text and her translations side-by-side and added notes to explain why she made the translations the way she did.

There is a need for these explanations, because Kvilhaug does not shy to come up with wholly different translations from what we are used to. The texts the author translated are the Voluspa, Vafthrudnismal, Grimnismal, Grottasongr, Allvismal and Hyndluliod.
These texts she says are from “creative poets who composed poetry of their own. The Edda poems contain a lot of ancient themes and profoundly Heathen material, but they have also been composed by poets who had an agenda: To convey wisdom through the art of metaphors.” (p. ii)
In the introduction Kvilhaug explains her position further.

The author also sees the symbolism of names and therefor decided to translate most names. The reason is that she thinks the names were not chosen at random, or because they sounded good. Leaving the names untranslated would bereave the reader with some of the depths of the poems. And so Heimdallr becomes “Great World”, Valfadr “Choice-father”, Verdandi “Is About To Happen” and Hoenir… “chicken”.
I will add some parts to the quotes section.

Kvilhaug also plunges into the deep explaning elements of the texts, such as the “I”, “me”, “her”, etc. in the Voluspa. This, with her reflections on the choice of translations, surely does shed a different light on the texts. I do not always find Kvilhaug’s reasoning sound, but often enough her interpretation forces me to think over a stanza again. This in itself, makes the little book (100 pages) a suggested reading.
Also, I had been looking for a while for a book with the original texts together with translations. The lay-out used for this is not the way I would have presented it, but at least I now have such a book. Hopefully Kvilhaug will continue with the remaining texts.

2016 CreateSpace, isbn 1507620926