View Full Version : The Ragnarok Within: Grundtvig, Jung, and the Subjective Interpretation of Myth

Thursday, November 10th, 2005, 11:35 AM
By Martin Chase, Center for Medieval Studies, Fordham University

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It is hard to overestimate the influence of N. F. S. Grundtvig on Danish culture. Indeed, in many ways he can be called the inventor (or at least the re-inventor) of Danish culture. He published more than any Danish author before or since, and his name is as familiar in Denmark as that of Shakespeare in the English-speaking world.

His writings on church and on education still form the core of theological and pedagogical studies at Danish universities, and any school-aged child in Denmark can recite several Grundtvig hymns or songs from memory. Kierkegaard scholars from other countries are often surprised to come to Denmark and find that his contemporary Grundtvig figures far more prominently.

Grundtvig’s major writings on myth (Lidet om sangene i Edda,1 Om Asalæren,2 Nordens Mytologi 1808,3 Nordens Mythologi 1832,4 and Græsk og Nordisk Mythologi for Ungdommen5) form a significant part of his authorship, but from the beginning they have been far less studied or understood than his works on society, education, and church.

Scholarship on Grundtvig’s theory of myth has been almost entirely from the point of view either of theologians or of educators associated with the højskole movement.6 In Grundtvig’s day, as to a large extent in ours, højskole and university were separate worlds, and although both took note of Grundtvig’s first book on myth, the academic community distanced itself as Grundtvig became increasingly associated with popular education.

As he noted in the introduction to his second book on myth, published in 1832 on the twenty-fifth anniversary of the first, the scholarly mythographers had shown him no more courtesy in the interim than to act as though he either never had existed or was long dead and gone.7 Twentieth century scholars of Old Norse are no different: apart from Axel Olrik8, who grants Grundtvig a brief and ambivalent mention in his survey of scholarship on Nordic myth, they have ignored him.

The second centenary of Grundtvig’s birth in 1983 brought a new wave of publication on Grundtvig, and for the first time in recent history, there were contributions from outside the usual circles. Villy Sørensen’s Ragnarok,9 a retelling of the Nordic cosmogony and eschatology based on Grundtvig’s principles, scandalized højskole-Grundtvigians and gave rise to a bitter debate in the popular press.10

Villy Sørensen ignores or recasts the allegorical interpretations of the myths that had become associated with Grundtvig and fossilized in the højskole tradition, and instead interprets them psychologically.

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