Happy Birthday, Jacob Grimm

On this day in 1785, Jacob Grimm was born in Hanau, Germany. While today Jacob and his brother Wilhelm are best known for the highly successful—and widely varying—editions of their folktale retellings, their work played a crucial role in the development of a variety of academic fields, ranging from folkloristics to philology and well beyond.

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This marks the third installment of JH Roberts's regular column Popular Resonances. Popular Resonances examines references to ancient Germanic culture and Germanic mythology in modern popular culture as it happens. For more information on the feature, please see Roberts's introductory post here. This installment includes Thor: Ragnarok, Jotun: Valhalla Edition, Great Whale Road game, The Creepy Case Files of Margo Maloo, and much more.

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Throwback Thursday: American Gods, a Novel by Neil Gaiman

Alvíss and Þrúðr by Lorenz Frølich, 1895. Wikimedia Commons.

American Gods is a novel by author Neil Gaiman. As the title suggests, the characters are mostly gods, but from many different pantheons (it is pan-pantheistic, if you will). The characters include several Germanic deities and figures, appearing in their American manifestations: Thor, Loki, Odin, Eostre, Alviss, the Norns, Yggdrasil, and Ratatoskr.

These gods are American because they live in the minds of people who traveled to America; from their minds, the gods took root and grew into American manifestations; as such, we see both the American and Icelandic manifestations of Odin in the novel.

Gaiman's conception of national deities resembles recent work by scholars such as Eric O. Scott, in that there is not a static manifestation of “Odin,” but rather different versions in Iceland and Norway.[i] Additionally, Gaiman’s conception of these gods as “American” allows him to use them in ways that might be offensive if the gods were their traditional manifestations. From the postcolonial perspective, however, this conception of America as a static entity, even in eras well before current borders were established, is problematic. Canada must be included as “America,” as Odin arrived in Canada, and then became American. It is unclear, however, if Mexico or any countries further south are American.

As a popular manifestation of Old Norse myth, Gaiman provides an interesting take on these characters, as well as the evolution of religious traditions through the ages. His reflections on the waning influence of pagan deities in the modern age are apt, and some specific details he includes (such as Loki's scarred lips), show he is very familiar with the source material. 

[i] Scott, Eric O. “Pagan Sympathy as Political Resistance in Two Sagas of Icelanders.” Presented at the 51st International Congress on Medieval Studies, in Kalamazoo, Michigan, 2016

Big Think's "Iceland is Officially Worshiping Norse Gods Again"

Today website Big Think published an article on the revival of North Germanic paganism in Iceland called "Iceland is Officially Worshiping Norse Gods Again". The article featuring a brief interview with Emory University theologian Luke Timothy Johnson. Here is a quote from Johnson as produced in the article:

A fissure erupts in Fimmvörðuháls, Iceland, 2010. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

"Christian mission has always positioned itself as a rescue operation, that people were in desperate straits, were indeed under the influence of demons. ... It is impossible to read the reflections of Marcus Aurelius ... and not recognize a profound mode of religious expression. ... It is impossible ... not to recognize that [paganism] is the furthest thing possible from the demonic. It is indeed a form of religious expression from which we can learn much, and at the very least we need to respect."

Johnson doesn't comment on Germanic polytheism directly in the short interview, rather he refers to the Christianization of the Roman Empire and Roman polytheism in the article. However, given how misinformed media coverage of Germanic Heathenry as a new religious movement has been in both left- and right-leaning American media—usually landing somewhere between alarmist moral panic to dismissive curiosity—Big Think's article is notable in its approach.

National Geographic and Slavery in the Viking Age

In late December, US publication National Geographic published an article on the topic of slavery in the Viking Age, specifically commenting on "attempts to soften the raiders' reputation". The article claims that not enough focus has been placed on the role of slavery in Viking Age society and that that slavery was "vital to the Viking way of life". A quote from the article:

A 1908 illustration by W. G. Collingwood from the Poetic Edda poem Rígsþula, in which the enigmatic god Heimsdallr visits an elderly man and woman. After he sleeps between them, the elderly woman is pregnant with the embodiment of a social class, Þræll ('slave, serf, thrall'). Image via Wikimedia Commons.

"The ancient reputation of Vikings as bloodthirsty raiders on cold northern seas has undergone a radical change in recent decades. A kinder, gentler, and more fashionable Viking emerged. ...

But our view of the Norse may be about to alter course again as scholars turn their gaze to a segment of Viking society that has long remained in the shadows."

Although Mimisbrunnr.info aims to be as objective as possible, the reader benefits from some commentary on some of these claims. Last I was aware, these comments regarding a 'kinder, gentler Viking Age' were in response to the monastery-derived image of vikings as a mindless "pagans", carrying the torch of earlier material, such as saint hagiographies, that portrayed Christianization as a sort of light bringer of culture to non-Christian peoples. The article also lacks discussion about how the notion and function of slavery differed from the modern era and how widespread slavery was during the period beyond Germanic Europe, particularly in Arabic society (in light of the mention of Ahmad ibn Fadlan).

In addition, the article makes rather speculative comments regarding polygamy during the Viking Age, for which there is no clear evidence.

Still, the article is worth a read, particularly regarding the discussion on grooved teeth that have been discovered in sites such as around what is now Lund, Sweden. For more, albeit brief, discussing regarding slavery during the Viking Age, see this National Museum of Denmark article.

"Freja" Fourth Most Popular Newborn Girl Name in Denmark in 2014

Freja is the fourth most popular newborn girl name in Denmark in 2014, according to Statistics Denmark. Freja entered Statics Denmark's list of most popularity child names in 1994 at #42 and has steadily become very popular. This popularity appears to have peaked in 2009, when the Freja was the #1 most popular name for newborn girls that year. The name has hovered around the top most popular newborn girl names since.

The North Germanic goddess Freyja as depicted in Freja by Swedish artist John Bauer, 1905

The modern Danish personal name Freja derives from Old Norse Freyja, a theonym (god name) referring to the major goddess Freyja. The name itself transparently means 'Lady' (the name of her brother, Freyr, is 'Lord'). Freyja is thought to have been a title for the goddess, who is otherwise know by at least several other names. The usage of a derivative of the goddess name Freyja as a given name is a recent development and does not appear to have historical precedent in the region.

While the list of newborn girl names primarily shows the influence of names deriving from Latin in the decision making process. However, another name deriving from pre-Christian North Germanic religion, Nanna (from the name of the Old Norse goddess—#38), also appears on the list, along with other Old Norse-derived names such as Signe (#32) and Astrid (#41). Newborn boy names show less of an influence from Old Norse, with a scant few representatives from the Danish language's ancestral name lexicon (for example, Aksel at #26 and Asger at #47).

* Navne til nyfødte ('Names of Nameborns') at Statistics Denmark (in Danish)

"Mad Max: Fury Road", Germanic Mythology, and Modern Popular Culture

References to Germanic mythology continue to flow into modern popular culture from unexpected sources. Back in 2014, I wrote an article discussing some of the more notable examples of this cultural phenomenon. Curious readers can read the article on academia.edu ("The ‘Viking Apocalypse’ of 22nd February 2014: An Analysis of the Jorvik Viking Centre’s Ragnarǫk and Its Media Reception").

The most notable example of Norse mythology in popular culture in 2015 may turn out to be George Miller's critically lauded post-apocalyptic film Mad Max: Fury Road. The film opened Friday, May 15, and references to Norse mythology are made throughout. These references include frequent mention of the North Germanic concept of the afterlife hall Valhalla and the more widely attested notion of the valkyrie, ferocious female beings. Other elements of the plot, itself quite mythological, come from more uncertain sources, but the film echoes conflicts found in the Old Norse corpus and discussion found in secondary scholarship regarding, for example, the role of Odin in the history of the Germanic peoples.

In any case, I myself found the film to be quite refreshing—high recommendations from mimisbrunnr.info!

BBC and Carnival Films Announce "The Last Kingdom"

Per Variety.com, a new eight-episode television drama from the BBC and Carnival Films set in the 9th century and focusing on interactions between the Anglo-Saxons and their Viking Age Scandinavian cousins is on its way:

The BBC and “Downton Abbey” producer Carnival Films have teamed up to produce historical drama series, “The Last Kingdom,” BBC America announced Wednesday.


Set in the year 872, when many of the separate kingdoms of what we now know as England have fallen to the invading Vikings, the great kingdom of Wessex has been left standing alone and defiant under the command of King Alfred the Great. Against this turbulent backdrop lives “The Last Kingdom’s” hero, Uhtred. Born the son of a Saxon nobleman, he is orphaned by the Vikings and then kidnapped and raised as one of their own. Forced to choose between the country of his birth and the people of his upbringing, his loyalties are ever tested. What is he — Saxon or Viking? On a quest to claim his birthright, Uhtred must tread a dangerous path between both sides if he is to play his part in the birth of a new nation and, ultimately, seek to recapture his ancestral lands.


Much like History Channel’s “Vikings,” “The Last Kingdom” will combine real historical figures and events with fiction, exploring themes like religion, politics, warfare and the quest for identity.