Odin, Lord of the Dead: Religious Legitimization for Social and Political Change in Late Iron Age and Early Medieval Scandinavia
Recently, scholars of pre-Christian religions in Scandinavia have argued against a unified pantheon with Odin at its head. Instead, scholars have argued that religious beliefs in pre-Christian Scandinavia should be understood as a body of interrelated beliefs that varied by region, social class, and environmental setting. Significant cults within pre-Christian Scandinavia include those of Thor, Freyr, Odin, and a cult of the dead. Acknowledging that various religious beliefs coexisted leads to the question of how they interacted with each other. The cult of Odin has often been considered a cult of royalty and elites. Scholars have argued that Odin's various aspects were tools for legitimizing rule. Significantly, Odin was not the god of the farmers, who may have favored a cult of the dead. By using the religious ruler ideology framework outlined by Sundqvist, this thesis argues that the followers of a cult of Odin benefited from Odin's perceived power over the dead because those followers existed in a society which used the dead to establish social and political standing. Using textual and archaeological evidence, I first establish how pre-Christian Scandinavians used the dead to create social and political power through óðal rights. I then use Icelandic sagas to show that overpowering the dead was a theme in the transfer of inheritance and power. Finally, I show how Odin and Odinic figures were shown overpowering the dead before gaining social and political standing. This thesis concludes that Odin's power over the dead was an aspect of religious legitimization for his cult. Critically, this thesis adds to the historiography by examining how different pre-Christian religions in Scandinavia interacted with one another.
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Master of Arts (M.A.)
College of Arts and Humanities
Length of Campus-only Access
Masters Thesis (Open Access)
Karnitz, Ty, "Odin, Lord of the Dead: Religious Legitimization for Social and Political Change in Late Iron Age and Early Medieval Scandinavia" (2022). Electronic Theses and Dissertations, 2020-. 1227.