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research paper about norse mythology

Old Norse Mythology—Comparative Perspectives

Old Norse mythology is elusive: it is the label used to describe the religious stories of the pre-Christian North, featuring such well-known gods as Odin and Thor, yet most of the narratives have come down to us in manuscripts from the Middle Ages mainly written by Christians. Our view of the stories as they were transmitted in oral form in…

Old Norse mythology is elusive: it is the label used to describe the religious stories of the pre-Christian North, featuring such well-known gods as Odin and Thor, yet most of the narratives have come down to us in manuscripts from the Middle Ages mainly written by Christians. Our view of the stories as they were transmitted in oral form in the pre-Christian era is obscured.

To overcome these limitations, this book assembles comparisons from a range of theoretical and analytical perspectives—across media, cultures, and disciplines. Fifteen scholars from a wide range of fields examine the similarities of and differences of the Old Norse mythologies with the myths of other cultures. The differences and similarities within the Old Norse corpus itself are examined to tease out the hidden clues to the original stories.

Available for purchase in print via Harvard University Press .

Hermann, Pernille, Stephen A. Mitchell, and Jens Peter Schjødt, eds., with Amber J. Rose. 2017. Old Norse Mythology—Comparative Perspectives . Milman Parry Collection of Oral Literature 3. Cambridge, MA: Milman Parry Collection of Oral Literature. http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:hul.ebook:CHS_HermannP_etal_eds.Old_Norse_Mythology.2017 .

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons 3.0 License.

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Norse People Research Paper

This essay about Norse people explores their identity, societal structure, and significant impact on medieval Europe during the Viking Age, which spanned from the late 8th to the early 11th centuries. It highlights their origins in Scandinavia and their activities as raiders, traders, and explorers, which extended across Europe and even reached North America. The essay discusses the complex social hierarchy of Norse society, the roles of men and women, and their legislative assemblies known as ‘things.’ Cultural aspects, including Norse mythology, poetry, and art, are examined to illustrate the richness of their cultural expressions. Additionally, the essay addresses the Norse people’s proficiency in navigation and trade, connecting distant regions and influencing local economies and cultures. The transformation of the Norse into a part of broader European Christian culture by the end of the Viking Age, marked by significant events like the Battle of Stamford Bridge in 1066, is also explored, showcasing their transition from pagan warriors to integrated members of Christianized Europe.

How it works

The Norse populace, often denoted as Vikings, comprised a cohort of maritime warriors, merchants, and adventurers hailing from Scandinavia—modern-day Norway, Sweden, and Denmark—who etched an indelible imprint on European annals during the latter part of the 8th and early 11th centuries. Renowned for their formidable incursions, profound cultural mores, and extraordinary maritime prowess, the Norse populace left an indelible mark on much of Europe and the North Atlantic regions through a combination of conquest and commerce.

Historically, the epoch recognized as the Viking Age commenced with the infamous sack of the Lindisfarne monastery in England in 793 AD, a pivotal event often cited as the inception of the Norse populace’s significant sway over medieval Europe.

This era was characterized by extensive exploration, marauding, and colonization by Norsemen, propelled by societal constructs, inherent political dynamics, and conceivably climatic shifts that rendered agrarian life in Scandinavia arduous.

Norse society manifested as a labyrinthine tapestry, governed by a framework of statutes and assemblies termed ‘things,’ wherein freemen convened to arbitrate disputes and legislate community affairs. Social stratification was deeply entrenched yet somewhat mutable, affording individuals avenues to ascend in status through feats of pecuniary accumulation, martial prowess, or expeditionary exploits. Women in Norse society enjoyed a relatively elevated standing, possessing the prerogative to hold property, petition for marital dissolution, and even assume familial leadership roles in their spouses’ absence.

The Viking expeditions transcended mere pillaging. These maritime odysseys culminated in the colonization of distant realms from their Scandinavian homelands, encompassing the establishment of the Duchy of Normandy in France and settlements in England, Ireland, Iceland, and Greenland. Particularly noteworthy was the Norse foray into North America, antedating Columbus by centuries, as evidenced by the archaeological vestiges at L’Anse aux Meadows in Newfoundland, Canada.

Culturally, the Norse populace burgeoned with mythology, poesy, and craftsmanship. Norse mythology, chronicled in Icelandic sagas and other historical manuscripts, portrays a cosmos inhabited by deities such as Odin, Thor, and Freyja, alongside other mythical entities like giants and dwarves. These narratives served not only as entertainment but also as conduits for imparting ethical precepts and communal values. Skalds, the bards of the Norse realm, wielded substantial influence, employing elaborate verses to narrate tales of deities and heroes or extol monarchs and champions. Regarding artistic expression, the Norse aesthetic is delineated by intricate interlacing motifs and zoomorphic designs, often adorning their metallurgy, woodcraft, and runestones.

Despite their renown as marauders and warriors, the Norse also distinguished themselves as adept merchants and navigators. They forged trade networks linking their homelands with far-flung reaches of Europe, Asia, and the Middle East, exchanging commodities such as pelts, amber, and bullion. These interconnections facilitated not only economic transactions but also cultural interchange, evidenced by the Norse impact on artistic idioms and artisanal craftsmanship in locales where they settled or traded.

The cessation of the Viking Age is conventionally demarcated by the demise of the Norwegian monarch Harald Hardrada at the Battle of Stamford Bridge in 1066. This juncture, coupled with the advent of Christianization in Scandinavia, which commenced gaining traction concurrently, heralded the assimilation of the Norse populace into the broader tapestry of European Christian culture, precipitating a wane in their distinct cultural and religious customs.

In summation, the Norse populace transcended the caricature of mere raiders. Their society was intricate and refined, boasting a rich cultural legacy and a profound imprint on medieval Europe through their exploratory ventures, commerce, and colonization. The legacy of the Norse endures not solely in historical chronicles but also in the enduring cultural legacies they bequeathed across Europe and beyond. Their saga stands as a testament to the dynamic and interconnected narrative of the European Middle Ages.


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research paper about norse mythology

World Mythology (HUM 1015)

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research paper about norse mythology

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Mexico, Chiapas, Palenque Region, Maya. Incense-Burner Support. c. 600-900.

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Painted incense stand with bowl. 1200-1000 BCE. Artstor, library-artstor-org.ccco.idm.oclc.org/asset/LESSING_ART_10313048841

Below you will find common mythic themes and elements for certain world mythologies. Also included are some ideas for research paper topics for each culture. You will notice that some mythic themes and elements are common across different cultures and mythologies (for example Greek and Roman).  

Note:   The following information can be found using the Gale Virtual Reference Library Philosophy & Religion database provided under the  Database and Internet Links   tab, and the course study outline available in the Start Here!  tab. 

Universal Themes

Common Universal Themes in World Mythology

Creation and the Ordering of the Cosmos/Reality Afterlife and immortality Gender Roles - social roles and ideals  Deities - relation to the divine, nature Acquisition of Fire/Technology Geophysical Phenomenon (e.g. Flood or Apocalyptic myths; Time)

Common Themes in Greek Mythology:

-Obedience to a higher being or beings

-Human behavior; explaining consequences of good and bad behavior

-Relationships between men and women to one another

-War and military honor; Creation of Heroes

-explaining the destructive forces of natural disasters

-passage of time and life, including the afterlife

Paper Ideas:

- A potter creating artistic pots depicting the relationship between Zeus and Athena, or other characters from Greek mythology.(Why are you depicting that scene; what does the myth mean to you?)

- A home owner, with a family, and a stranger come to the home asking for shelter (Xenos, Theos)

- A Greek solider explaining his experience during the Trojan War

- A young Greek person has a dream about crossing the River Styx and seeing a deceased relative (describe the journey, how did you get to the underworld, did you meet other characters from Greek mythology there?)

Common Themes in Roman Mythology: 

-Celebration of Virtues (Honor, Bravery, Self-Sacrifice, and piety) 

-Gods and Goddess represent Virtue (deities do not possess the same human-like weaknesses and vices)

-War and Military Honor 

-Founding of Rome (Romulus and Remus story)

- A roman general speaks to his troops before a major battle (explain how the deities might favor those who demonstrate virtues listed above)

- Comparison of Greek and Roman Gods and/or Goddesses from the perspective of a Roman scholar

- You are an advisor to an Emperor of Rome, and have been tasked with explaining ways to honor the gods and goddess with a ceremony or festival  


Common Themes in India/Hindu Mythology:

Importance of nature (sacred Animals, Trees, and mountains for example)

Eschatology,Death, Reincarnation of the soul

Ritualistic festivals and devotion to gods and goddesses

- Parents explain why good behavior is important to a child (Dharma, reincarnation ) 

- A village elder explains the significance of a sacred Tree within the village

- a young person talks about the forms of Vishnu, and how they see Vishnu in their daily lives, to a sibling. 

Common Themes in Norse Mythology: 

- Bravery/courage while facing a harsh fate

-Impending destruction of man and deities

-struggle between good and evil 

- focus on nature (fire, ice, trees, rainbows are all natural elements that appear in Norse Mythology)

- Creation of Sagas to honor ancestors 

Paper Ideas: 

- An elder member of a Viking family writes a saga describing the heroic efforts of a late family member

- You are part of the valkyries, and are selecting fallen warriors to enter Valhalla ( explain why a certain warrior makes it in to Valhalla, while another may be left out)

North American

Common Themes in North American Mythology:

-Bridge the gap between hunter/gatherer culture and settlement culture

-Varied beliefs according to unique history of events and geographic relationships

-Animal Spirits (e.g. Buffalos, wolves, rabbits are different types of animal spirits that appear in North American mythologies). 

-Origin stories (Commonalities in stories due to mass migration across Bering Straight and later spreading of tribes across North America)

-Sacred pieces; pipes, drums, robes, 

-Gender roles (e.g. Buffalo Woman & Handsome Stranger 

- You are a young warrior sent on a vision quest; describe what you are doing, and how it relates to the mythology of your culture, why is your vision quest important? 

- As a Navajo elder, you must explain the significance of the four sacred mountains of the Navajo and how the Navajo came to be.  

- You are a Creek woman explaining the story of the Lucky Hunter and the Corn Woman to your children (Creek Indian creation myth).

- You are a Ute Indian tribesman, and you spotted a wolf and a coyote while wondering your territory.  Explain the symbolism that these two creatures mean to your tribe.  Is it good or bad that you saw these two animals? Should you be concerned at the sight of a wolf or coyote? 


Common Themes in Meso-American Mythologies:

-Developed stable and sophisticated cultures early (as compared to Europe and China for example)

-astronomical observation and creation of complex calendars; movements of planets tracked (e.g. Venus) 

-architecture ( pyramid builders)

-The mystery and mists of time; development of corn

-The use of slaves

-Human sacrifice

-The Green Man (The maintenance of the cycle of nature)

- You are a member of the Mayan civilization.  Explain the significance of your birth date, does the date have any baring on the outcome of your life or your fate? 

- As a high priest in the Mayan culture, you must keep the deities happy and appeased.  What rituals and practices do you use, and why is this beneficial for your culture? ( NOTE : a paper like this can be graphic, please do not focus your paper on graphic or inappropriate images and themes.  Human sacrifice and bloodletting are examples of practices that occurred in Meso-American cultures, do not include graphic details of these practices, but instead explain how and why such rituals were practiced in these civilizations .)

- You are an Aztec elder and want to explain the origins of the civilization to a young family member.  You explain the 4 suns (or worlds) that came before your time, and explain their significance to the civilization. 

Common Themes in Egyptian Mythology

-Creation Myth (e.g. World, Ennead of Heliopolis,)

-Afterlife ( i.e. Myths of Osiris, Book of the Dead, mummies & pyramids )

-Numerous cults and rituals to deities (e.g. Cult of Isis ) 

-Solar Myths; Sun deities and the cycle of their daily movement

-The idea of Order ( ma at )- reflecting notions of truth, cooperation and Justice

-The influence of Egyptian Myths and rituals (e.g. Greeks and Romans borrow mythological elements and deities to fit their cultures)

-  You are an Egyptian watching the sun rise over the Nile River, explain the significance of this daily occurrence,  where did the sun go when it was night? What do you believe happened to the sun or deities that are associated with the sun during the night?

- You are an ancient scholar, you are studying the Cult of Osiris.  You have read or been told the story of Osiris by Egyptians, and discover that Plutarch, a Roman Historian, has also recorded a version of the story of Osiris.  Do you notice any variation in the Egyptian version of the story whe comparing it with Plutarch's version?

- You are an Egyptian farmer working lands near the Nile. Which gods and/or goddesses do you rely on for a healthy and bountiful crop? Do you feel that they help or do the deities seem to be against you? Why would the deities favor you or want to destroy you? 

Common Themes in Celtic Mythology:

- Celtic cultures were diverse and deities and myths were localized depending on the tribe.  

- Oral tradition of myth telling; most tales not recorded in text ( recorded versions of Celt tales come from Roman sources; Romans and Celts were enemies, thus Roman accounts are often unfavorable views of the Celtic culture). 

- Myths of the Otherworld ; How to get to the Otherworld; The use of Burial mounds ( sidhe),  importance of geographic features (e.g. lakes, caves)

- Magic, Magicians, and supernatural events (e.g. the magic cauldron or kettles) 

- Epic and perilous adventure stories; mysterious and dangerous lands; larger than life heroes

- Romance, love, and tricksters can be found any many tales. 

- As a Druid priest, you are teaching the tale of Dagda. What role does Dagda play as a member of the religious sect of Celtic culture? Do you have any magic powers as a Druid priest?

- You are Celtic hunter that has come across another tribe of Celts that you are not familiar with.  Discuss the differences in your tribes with a member from the new tribe you have found.  Are your deities the same? Do they have the same names? Did you hear a new version of a old tale? 

- You are a Roman solider that just fought a band of Celtic warriors.  You have taken a Celt warrior prisoner, and having spent a lot of time in the region, can understand the what the prisoner is saying. Explain the conversation.  Is the warrior praying to a certain deity? Does the warrior tell you anything about the Celtic culture and beliefs? 

Common Themes in Chinese Mythology :

- Complex and old mythology (Chinese history, mythology, and reality intertwine). 

- Confucianism, Buddhism, and Taoism factor into Chinese Mythology.

-Changing dynasties means more or less emphasis on particular deities in the pantheon of Chinese gods and goddesses.

- creation of the cosmos and human beings out of chaos (e.g. Pan Gu and the creation of the world) 

- nature; Explanations of natural phenomena; Animism used often to explain the natural world.

- Astronomical observation and the use of myth to explain the origins of stars, the sun, the moon and their movements.

- moral issues.

- ancestor worship (became more important to Chinese culture with the rise of the Zhou Dynasty)

- An elderly member of your family has recently passed away after a long life.  Explain how your family views the passing of your relative based on chinese mythology.  Do you think your relative was favored by the deities, or does their death make you think that your ancestor crossed the deities somehow? Will your family do any rituals or ceremonies to honor your ancestors? 

- As an ancient Chinese astronomers, you explain various myths that account for the sun, moon, and the appearance of the Milky Way in the night sky.

-  You are a Chinese hunter/fisherman and are hoping to pass down your skills to your children.  You tell them the legend of the three Sovereigns and explain how this story is important to understand if the children want to be successful as hunters/fishermen. 

Common Themes in Japanese Mythology:

- Creation Myth (creation of the islands of Japan)

- Focus on nature; Everything in nature has a  kami --  a spirit or soul. 

- Many centuries myths were orally transmitted; 712 CE myths recorded in the  Kojiki  for Emperor; Another text, the  Nihongi  created around 720 CE contains more legends and myths, as well the genealogy of the imperial family (both text contain elements of Taoism). 

- Gods granting divine rights to Japanese Emperor

- The importance of mirrors as a mythic symbol

- Rituals to honor the Gods and Goddesses (e.g.kagura dances) 

-  You have grown up in a mountainous region of Japan, and have heard tales of the  tengu,  or trickster spirits that are part human and part bird, and inhabit the area. You have figured out a way to play a trick on the  tengu,  who do not like being on the opposite end of tricks.  What did you do and how did the tengu respond to your trickster ways?

- You serve the Japanese Imperial family as a scribe and/or scholar. You are writing a personal journal entry to yourself questioning the divine origins of the Imperial family.  Do you believe that they are truly descendents from the gods and goddesses as Japanese mythology claims? Why or why not?

- As a Japanese rice farmer, you harvest the most important crop for the civilization. Discuss the various deities and legends that help you cultivate this important food crop. (e.g.  Inari,  Amaterasu) 

Common Themes in Arthurian Legend:

-   A blend of Celtic Myth, history, and medieval romance; Arthurian Legend factor in to the Mythology of the British Isles (Britain, Ireland, Wales).

-  King Arthur may or may not have really existed

- Many Characters in early Arthurian Legends based on older Celtic myth characters (e.g. Merlin and Myrddin)

-  Equality amongst Knights of the Round Table.

- Magic Powers, supernatural beings, and epic quests part of Arthurian legends.

- Loyalty and human weakness explored in Arthurian legends.

- King Arthur is considered a timeless, or eternal king; Scholars have seen similarities between King Arthur and Sun Gods (die and set in the west, but reborn)

- Legends transform over time (Search for Magic cauldron becomes search for Holy Grail); Medieval writers create new Arthurian legends

Paper Ideas:  

- You are a medieval scholar and you have a new take on the Legend of King Arthur and his sword, Excalibur. Why do you need to retell this tale? What is different in your telling of the legend compared to other versions of the this legend? 

- Suppose that King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table did exist, and you are an aspiring Knight, hoping to be amongst those that set at the Round Table.  How would you gain favor with the King? Describe what it takes to be a Knight of the Round Table.  

- Compare an Arthurian Legend with the Celtic myth from which it originated.  How are they similar? How do they differ? (e.g. Merlin compared to Myrddin ; Quest for the magic cauldron compared with quest for the Holy Grail). 

Polynesian Mythology

Common Themes in Polynesian Mythology:

-Polynesia consists of several islands and cultures located in the Pacific Ocean (  Ranging from Midway and Hawaii in the north to New Zealand in the south, the triangular area called Polynesia also includes Tahiti, Samoa, Tonga, Tuamotu, the Cook Islands, and the Pitcairn Islands).

-Though slight variations in mythologies exist based on particular island cultures, many of the basic themes, gods, and stories are shared throughout Polynesia. 

- Large emphasis on nature; Myths and legends explain the importance of the Ocean to Polynesian cultures.

- Creation myths very important to Polynesian Cultures (e.g. Ao and Po Hawaiian Myth; Te Po, Te Kore, Rangi, and Papi Moari myth)

- Yams and sweet potatoes are stable crops of Polynesian cultures, and have their own myths and legends surrounding them.

- Humans must deal with uncooperative or unfriendly gods in someway (e.g. myth of Maui) 

-  As a yam farmer on the island of Samoa, you have had a dismal crop and need to explain to your family why the deities cursed you this harvest. Using myths, explain what went wrong, and if possible, how to correct this problem for the next harvest. 

- You have grown up in the ancient Hawaiian culture, and experience the arrival of European explorers coming to your shore for the first time.  Based on your myths, how do you interpret the arrive of of these entities? Are they human? Is this a good or bad sign from the Gods and Goddesses?  

- As an experienced sailor from Tahiti, you are about to embark on a trip across the ocean.  Are there rituals that will help you have a safe voyage? Are their mythical creatures or certain deities you should worry about while you prepare for the voyage? Explain your thoughts as you load your craft for the ocean voyage. 

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    This paper offers a synthesis of a large body of recent research into the Old Norse religion which has been conducted as part of the multidisciplinary research project Vager till Midg?rd - Roads to Midgard. Evidence for the Pre-Christian Norse religion is drawn from Medieval Icelandic literature, place-names and the archaeology of ritual sites.

  11. Ph.D. Thesis: Asgard Revisited. Old Norse Mythology and Icelandic

    Subsequently ( § 3 ), Árni Magnússon's life and work are presented. In the following Section ( § 4 ), the manuscript containing the two essays, AM 436 4to, is described. The two essays are then edited and translated in Section 5 . In the last Section ( § 6 ), the two works are commented and Árni Magnússon's scholarly thought evaluated.

  12. Mythology (Old Norse Literature) Research Papers

    Folklore and Old Norse Mythology (ed. Frog & Joonas Ahola) The present volume responds to the rising boom of interest in folklore and folklore research in the study of Old Norse mythology. The twenty-two authors of this volume reveal the dynamism of this lively dialogue, which is characterized by... more. Download.

  13. Norse Mythology Critical Essays

    The cosmos of Norse mythology is divided into three levels, corresponding loosely to the realm of the gods, the realm of humans, and an underworld. These realms are subdivided into nine worlds ...

  14. PDF Norse Mythology in Popular Culture: A Study of the Thor ...

    Norse Mythology is the collected myths of Germanic people who lived in the Scandinavian region and spoke Norse mythology roughly between the period of 800 and 1300AD. Norse mythology had been adapted to popular culture quite often in the past. The paper aims at understanding the adaptation of Norse mythology

  15. Norse People Research Paper

    Norse People Research Paper. The Norse populace, often denoted as Vikings, comprised a cohort of maritime warriors, merchants, and adventurers hailing from Scandinavia—modern-day Norway, Sweden, and Denmark—who etched an indelible imprint on European annals during the latter part of the 8th and early 11th centuries.

  16. LibGuides: World Mythology (HUM 1015): Research Paper Ideas

    Common Themes in Norse Mythology: - Bravery/courage while facing a harsh fate. -Impending destruction of man and deities. -struggle between good and evil. - focus on nature (fire, ice, trees, rainbows are all natural elements that appear in Norse Mythology) - Creation of Sagas to honor ancestors. Paper Ideas:

  17. Norse Mythology Research Paper

    The Midgard serpent is depicted as a giant snake wrapped around the Earth with its tail in its mouth. Hel is a giantess and goddess and rules over Helheim, the realm of the dead (Norse Mythology for Smart People). These three bring about Ragnarok. Ragnarok itself is known as "the Doom of the Gods" (McCoy). The end starts with the death of ...

  18. Research Paper On Norse Mythology

    Norse Mythology is the religion of the Norse people, Norse people are also known as Vikings. Norse Mythology is the meaning of the Viking's life and existence of how things came to be on Earth. This subject may not be something familiar to most people of the 21st century, but it certainly can be agreed that it is nonetheless interesting to ...

  19. Norse Mythology Research Paper

    Loki was the trickster of Norse mythology. The Norse gods, like Odin the All-Father, Thor the thunderer and the beautiful Iduna, who kept the gods youthful with her apples, were powerful and warlike but frequently foolish. Loki was not a god but he was allowed associate with them because he was clever and amusing.

  20. Norse Mythology Research Paper

    The Mighty Norse shall fall at Raganarok All things living, animals, man, and even the gods shall meet the gentle kiss of death. This is found to be burned into the fabled myths of the mighty Norse gods. They called this event Ragnarok, or twilight of the gods. In this the mighty gods fell to the evil ice giants.