The best books on the Viking era and the meeting of Christianity and Germanic religions

G. Ronald Murphy Author Of Tree of Salvation: Yggdrasil and the Cross in the North
By G. Ronald Murphy

The Books I Picked & Why

The Heliand: The Saxon Gospel (Translated By G. Ronald Murphy)

By G. Ronald Murphy

The Heliand: The Saxon Gospel (Translated By G. Ronald Murphy)

Why this book?

The ninth-century author is unknown. I am the translator and commentator. If you know the Gospel story but have never heard it expressed in another world’s words and values, you are in for a treat. When I was translating it, I found every day brought a chuckle or a smile as the world of Palestine and Near East became the shores of the North Sea. Christ becomes a “chieftain” with his twelve “thanes/men” around him, “faith” becomes “loyalty,” Judas is described as a “loyalty liar,” and Jesus changes water into wine at Cana so that all the guests can continue having a merry time on the benches. Though we are a thousand years away, we still speak Saxon in a way. It still hits home.


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Norse Myths: Gods of the Vikings

By Kevin Crossley-Holland

Norse Myths: Gods of the Vikings

Why this book?

This book is a clear and charming retelling of the old stories some of which lie in the background of the Heliand version of the Gospel. The tales are all retold in a way that makes them easily become familiar to the modern reader – the creation of the world is there, the beautiful cosmology with the Tree Yggdrasil holding all things together in space, with well of time as well at its base. The end of the world, Ragnarok, with both its unspeakable terrors as well as the sympathetic trembling of the Tree, contain a fear and a hope of rescue that is as old as the time of human beings.


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Scandinavian Mythology

By H. R. Ellis Davidson

Scandinavian Mythology

Why this book?

The author is one of the most renowned scholars of the ancient Northern world. This book is here because I find it a gold mine of artifacts and all are accompanied by the most extensive illustrations possible on every page. There are burial ships for journeying to Valhalla, pictures of ax men on the rampage in England, a solar disc on wheels being pulled by a bronze horse, elaborately carved prows of Viking ships, Christ crucified carved as being held prisoner entangled in the tree Yggdrasil. If you can’t make the journey, but are intrigued by the artifacts of the pagan-Christian world, this is the book to settle down with by the fireplace on a cold winter’s eve.


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The Poetic Edda (Translated By Carolyne Larrington)

By Carolyne Larrington

The Poetic Edda (Translated By Carolyne Larrington)

Why this book?

The author is unknown, and though the work was copied down in the thirteenth century, it contains many elements from much earlier, especially from the creation myths. This book is the sine qua non for getting to the world of the thought of the Viking era’s mindset, its metaphors, its values in plain advice and in poetic images. It tells of the world and of what is going on in heaven and on earth. The scholar can’t do without it. If you find yourself curious about the original form of the myths and stories, or at least as near as we can get to some of them, the Poetic Edda is indispensable.


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Edda (Translated By Anthony Faulkes)

By Anthony Faulkes, Snorri Sturluson

Edda (Translated By Anthony Faulkes)

Why this book?

Translated and edited by Anthony Faulkes. It too comes from the thirteenth century. The author was an Icelandic law-speaker, a chief, and a deeply involved scholar interested in the retention of the old forms of pre-Christian poetry. Why should you look at this if you have done the Elder Edda? A good question, especially since in many ways Snorri’s version is longer. And that is the reason. If you noticed that the Tree churches (stave churches) have snakes on the roof, that is something Snorri notes about the Tree Yggdrasil, that the snakes in the branches will forever gnaw away at them. It is Snorri who related that the underworld agreed to release the good Balder from Hel if every creature wept. All did but one, Loki, the god of deceit and trickery. And so Balder remains dead till Ragnarok. This makes all the more poignant the phrase found in the eighth-century poem on the Crucifixion, and on the Ruthwell cross: “all creation wept.” Snorri’s Edda is an enrichment.


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