Philadelphia’s Franklin Institute is showing an exhibit until 3 March 2019 called, Vikings: Beyond the Legend. Included is over 600 objects from the National Nationalmuseet/Denmark.
It is a generally well-designed exhibition on Nordic daily life during the Vik ing Age. I recommend it for anyone with an interest who has not had exposure to such physical remains.
What disappointed me was the section on that of which I was most anticipating – mythology and lived daily religion. The collection in this area was meager. Furthermore, about half of the room was on Christianity. Thus, the pre-Christian material was sparse indeed. The highlight for me was the seiđstafr (pictured), which was similar to one I have seen in the Viking Ship Museum in Oslo.
Unfortunately, I was not surprised that the singular mention of Freyja was as “a goddess of sexual lust and war.” This does not capture the complexity as presented in the Eddas and Sagas of the Lady (as her name means). Importantly, for the context of a religion room, Freyja practiced the shamanic art of seiđr, and taught this to the Æsir. I look forward to the time when patriarchy is so diminished that goddesses are no longer characterized by their sexual aspect. (E.g., Odin was promiscuous, but he is never described as “a god of sexual lust.”)
Most dismaying of all was the misleading informational plaque titled, The End of Everything. It read, “Vikings seemed to have been one of the few world cultures with no extended afterlife for anyone at all. When Ragnarök occurs, gods, humans, the living, the dead, and every kind of animal and supernatural creature will perish in fire and ice, returning the universe to the vacuum from which it began.” This goes beyond a simplistic description of deity. This is incorrect – and poor scholarship. Here I will simply quote from the Gylfaginning in Snorri’s Prose Edda concerning The Rebirth of the World (53): “Vidar and Vali survive… and they will inhabit Idavoll, the place where Asgaard was earlier. To there will come Thor’s sons Modi and Magni… Next Baldr and Hod will arrive from Hel… In the place called Hoddmimir’s Wood, two people will have hidden themselves from Surt’s fire. Called Lif and Leifthrasir… From these will come so many descendants that the whole world will be inhabited.” (Jesse Byock’s translation). Thus Ragnarök is actually a story that involves a rebirth, and hope.
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